Updated: January 21, 2018 4:33:40 pm
Election to the 13th Nagaland Legislative Assembly is unlikely to be a smooth affair as the cry for ‘Solution before Election’ continues to resonate even after the Election Commission notified the date for the polls. Naga Hoho, considered the all-inclusive apex Naga organisation before the Nagaland Tribes Council challenged its hegemony, has decided not to allow elections to take place. Soon after announcement of the poll schedule, Naga Hoho president P Chuba Ozukum categorically stated that “the stand of the organisation is not to allow the election.”
Talking to indianexpress.com, Ozukum reiterated the organisation’s stand to boycott the election: “Now all civil societies, tribal hohos, political parties and the Naga national workers (insurgent groups) want solution before the elections. Asserting that all Nagas are united on the issue, he added: “This time it is different from 1998; this time Nagas are one.”
In 1998, Naga Hoho had given the same — ‘No election without solution’ — call along with the NSCN-IM. The ceasefire between the Government of India and the Isak-Muivah had just been signed in 1997 and peace talks had started begun. Except for the Indian National Congress, all other political parties responded or were coerced to withdraw from the elections. Congress won in 53 seats and independents in seven. Almost 20 years later, the 12th Nagaland Legislative Assembly on December 15, 2017, resolved to take the same stand and called upon the Centre to bring in a solution to the Naga political issue well before the elections.
Asked if the Naga politicians are ready to forgo elections for the solution, Ozukum said: “Naga political parties should not file nominations.”
However, Theja Therieh, secretary of the Nagaland Tribes Council, an organisation comprising representatives of Naga tribes only of Nagaland, is not in favour of a boycott or “any kind of violence that will disturb the peace process.” He puts the responsibility on the elected legislators saying “if the political parties honour their resolution and opt out of elections, then there won’t be any commotion.”
Asked if the state BJP will heed to the calls of the civil bodies, Nagaland BJP president Visasolie told indianexpress.com: “Whatever Centre directs us, we will have to go by that.” He added: “We all support an early settlement but that is completely a separate issue. The Centre and Naga national workers will decide and it will take its own time,” but “election is a time bound process and we have to go by notification.”
“If the 60 members can walk the talk, there would be no problem at all. If they don’t, they have taken the people for a ride. Then we have to take them to task,” the NTC secretary stressed, substantiating that the “resolution by the elected house of the people” cannot be taken lightly. Voicing doubts that the legislators would honour their decision, Theja Therieh said, “I don’t foresee them stepping down. But if they want to go back on their word, they should tell the public why they are not in a position to honour the resolution. An elected government misleading the people is unbecoming and because of such leadership people are being divided on different lines.”
The peace process is more important than elections, the Naga leader said, adding that the “elections at this point will damage the fragile peace process”. Clarifying that the NTC is not against election, Therieh stressed, “We are not against the democratic process. We just want GoI to listen to our sentiments because now if election is held the efforts (of uniting) we have collectively made is going to go waste and people will be divided again (sic).”
The involvement of Naga underground groups in elections is an open secret in Nagaland. Therieh worries that the efforts of uniting the Naga underground groups, and also the different tribes, would go to waste if elections are held. “If election happens at the moment, differences among the groups will creep in. That is what worries us.”
On Naga Hoho’s boycott call, the NTC leader remarked that the Naga society is represented by tribal organisations and he didn’t think the Hoho has the capacity to unilaterally announce on behalf of the people. He added that NTC would like to see that the atmosphere is conducive for the negotiations to conclude peacefully.
Meanwhile, all political parties were ready for the battle ahead. Even as meetings of party workers were being held at all levels, the TR Zeliang-led ruling NPF party seemed reluctant to declare its position on the “solution before election” stand. Repeated attempts to solicit a response from the party ended futile. While there were some reports that TR Zeliang, chief ministerial candidate of NPF, will join the BJP, sources in the saffron party said they had been let down by Zeliang who had kept them “waiting for two years with assurances of joining the party.” Sources within NPF informed that Zeliang is uncomfortable despite being the chief ministerial candidate as veteran politician and NPF party president Shurhozelie Liezietsu is wielding complete authority to choose candidates to field in the polls.
The newly formed Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) was evasive in its response. Lok Sabha MP Neiphiu Rio, who joined the party on Friday, was on expected lines declared its chief ministerial candidate. Rio had come to power in Nagaland in 2003 toppling the Congress riding high on assurances of facilitating an early solution to the Naga issue and has been harping on “solution before election” in the run up to the declaration of dates. The party was non-committal on the issue today, with its secretary general Abu Metha maintaining that matters have not been discussed at party-level. In a statement Friday evening, Rio said he has joined NDPP as the ruling NPF party decided to sever ties with the BJP in contravention of the NPF’s earlier stand of supporting the peace process by playing the role of facilitator.
Nagaland Congress chief K Therie when contacted said that while solution is a priority, constitutional process cannot be avoided. “Once ECI has announced, it is not possible for us to do anything else but participate (in the elections).” On the Naga Hoho’s talk of boycotting the elections, he opined that it is not possible. “The (Naga) Hoho is not a political party, political parties will decide on the election. Whatever they (NH) may be saying it will not be possible, there will be election.” The veteran politician said a solution cannot happen so easily and just saying early solution doesn’t mean anything. “The undergrounds have taken so many lives, taxed so many people on account of sovereignty and integration and if they sign anything less than that people will not agree.” Therie was of the view that the legislators who made the resolution of ‘solution before election’ do not know what the people want.
In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised to resolve the Indo-Naga issue in 18 months. Three years later and with no tangible result, the Naga political issue seems to have become a hurdle to conducting peaceful elections. Yet for political parties in Nagaland, it could well be a blessing-in-disguise by diverting public attention from significant issues of corruption and bad governance.
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