There are snorts of contempt and disbelief; the noises, from among the young audience, that punctuate the political rhetoric speak volumes of the credibility of current breed of politicians in Nagaland. Hearty applause sounds approval of those who pitch questions of accountability to the representatives of five political parties that form the panel. The answers, devoid of hard facts, get rebuked with varied odd sounds of disapproval. By the end of the session, the leaders look visibly uneasy and restless. On the contrary, the students and young members of the audience seem reluctant to end the session, hungry to hear and be heard.
“The Big Picture: Policy Matters”, an open interaction with political parties held in Dimapur had representatives of political parties on hot seats. The panel for the event, organised by two local media and one publishing house, had NPF spokesperson, Achumbemo Kikon; BJP Nagaland general secretary, Jaansillung Gonmei; Nagaland Congress general secretary, Capt. GK Zhimomi; NDPP youth wing president, Kelhuneizo Yhome and the young NPP secretary (administration), Samuel Sumi.
The session started off with the five panelists setting the political tone on expected lines. BJP, fighting to shed the communalism tag harped on secularism and gifts for Nagaland, Naga People’s Front hoisted the flag of Naga issue, youth and women empowerment, Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party – the new party with old faces, talked good governance and transparency while the Congress, tried to put up a brave face. NPP, the new party in Nagaland with comparatively new faces, played on its ‘clean slate’ appeal to promise an alternative to the current crop of politicians. Armed with their respective party manifestos, the representatives of the political parties used the opportunity to highlight the visions and promises of their respective party manifestos.
The panelists sought refuge in manifestos and launched into oft-repeated rhetoric. But as one member of the audience summed up – “They were non-committal; just claims and justifications but hardly could put forward any concrete or doable measures.”
When one of the panelists was challenged by a member of the audience for failing to answer to her query, the moderator had to step in, “I hope next time, you will do your homework.”
Tackling the issues of corruption and clean election, the BJP representative blamed people for unclean election. “It (corruption) depends on the public. Polling system is such that if we don’t spend money we cannot ensure victory of our candidates. If public can desist from selling votes, then the whole trend will stop.” Congress spokesperson Capt. Zhimomi tore into the BJP statement – “Nobody can insulate themselves from this (corruption/clean election). We are all equally responsible. Clean election initiative will have to start from top to bottom, bottom to top.”
Thirty-five-year old Supongtemsu Longchar, assistant professor of political science in Tetso College was not happy with the discourse on corruption. “They should have suggested means by which the Naga political culture could shift from the current system, which is based on muscle power, money, clan and tribal loyalty, to ideology and accountability (sic),” he noted.
Rhilo Mero, a final year English Honours student of Tetso College, talking to indianexpress.com, voiced dissatisfaction with the vague response of the panelists. “They didn’t give solid facts; should have given us facts and figures. And none answered to the question – where did all the money go?”
Forty-four-year old Seno Tsusah of North East Network, an NGO, observed that the responses were “very generic.” Tsusah was referring in particular to a question raised by one of her colleagues on policies for women empowerment and violence against women. “We need concrete answers. And we didn’t get that,” Tsusah said.
With Congress out of power in the state for the last 15 years, the party’s spokesperson was under the least pressure. Barring new entrant NPP, the other political parties found themselves skating on thin ice. Interestingly, both the NPF, and the NDPP – a party which is led by NPF’s former poster boy Neiphiu Rio – had former presidents of the Naga Students’ Federation facing the largely young audience.
But while NDPP’s Yhome more often than not sidestepped issues harping on transparent governance, NPF’s Achumbemo Kikon brazened it out, seeking votes for his party rather than building on any discourse. Kikon assured free education for girls up to university level. He played the ‘facilitator’ card every time the discourse strayed to the Indo-Naga issue and sought to claim credit for NPF for taking the Naga political issue to its present status. There was little to distinguish between the NPF and NDPP on the issue of Indo-Naga peace talks. Faced with the query, NDPP too toed the ‘facilitator’ line, with Yhome assuring that his party, if voted to power, would “seriously pursue negotiation.”
BJP remained non-committal on the issue with its spokesperson stating, “We are not in the capacity to answer this question … Even the state government is not aware of the content of the agreement.” Congress hit out likening the Framework Agreement to “the sound of wind; we can hear it but not see it.”
On industrialisation policies too, the audience was left disappointed as apparently none of the panelists had anything new to say, and harped on need of conducive atmosphere to attract investors. NPP representative Samuel Sumi grabbed the issue to make a point on promoting cottage and organic food industry in Nagaland, and regulating the ongoing limestone and coal mining in the state.
The Congress spokesperson once again went after the ruling parties citing the recent huge investment by Ramdev’s Patanjali in the state. “Government of the day for the last 15 years has been talking of land acquisition being the biggest hindrance to bringing industries, bringing development. But I am shocked that Patanjali has laid foundation of so many schools over such large area of land. How come there has been no hindrance in land acquisition for Patanjali?”
With religion casting a shadow on the Nagaland Assembly elections, in the backdrop of BJP’s growing political clout and the Baptist church’s vocal disapproval of the saffron party, the issue of secularism too had a significant share of the discourse. But, most participants, speaking to indianexpress.com, said they were unconvinced with the arguments put forth by some of the panelists. “We know what is happening all over the country. We follow news,” Rhilo Mero asserted. Only Capt. Zhimomi was greeted with resounding applause when he asserted that “the idea that gave India a secular plural democracy, is under threat.”
Aheli Moitra, one of the two moderators of the discourse, said, “It was encouraging to see the heightened awareness among the youth, both Nagas and non-Nagas, and the hunger among them to know more about policy matters and demand answers of politicians.”
Summing up the event, Seno Tsuhah categorically stated, “What the audience voiced has to be taken seriously. The (panelists) should reflect on the issues that the students and others raised and take those to their party and see that those are addressed. This kind of platform should be created once the government is formed. People would want to know what is the government’s plan for the next five years. That is democracy.”