The deputy commissioner’s office in Dimapur, the state’s largest city, is perhaps a microcosm of Nagaland’s politics. Outside the gates, uniformed personnel of the Nagaland Police and the CRPF, called in for the elections, patrol the streets, guns in hand. Inside, as the candidates make their way to the returning officer’s room to file their nominations, they do so quietly, almost as if they don’t want to be noticed. There are only three cars with party stickers, and just a handful of supporters for each candidate, making very little noise.
Even the official notice outlining the election schedule, stuck on the board at the main entrance to the building, tells a story of uncertainty. “If the elections are held, polling day will be February 27th, between 7 am and 4 pm,” it says.
On January 29, the Core Committee of Nagaland Tribal Hohos and Civil Organisations (CCNTHCO) and 11 political parties, including state BJP leaders (who were later suspended from the party), signed a joint declaration calling for the assembly elections to be “deferred”. Announcing their decision to stay away from the polls, the parties called for a “solution before elections”.
“We firmly believe that it is expedient for all political parties, both national and regional, to come together in the greater interest of the state and defer the elections, and allow the Naga political process to reach its logical conclusion by giving space and time to the negotiating groups to bring out an early solution,” the joint declaration said.
But by February 2, some parties, led by the BJP, began backtracking, asking for the electoral process to continue. On Wednesday, the last day for filing nominations, even as every party said “they would fight for the Naga people”, it was clear that they had picked elections before a solution. While only 24 candidates from across the state had filed their nominations till Tuesday, the number jumped to 253 on Wednesday.
In Dimapur, the first few days of the nomination process saw only one candidate. “Dimapur has five constituencies, three of which have returning officers in this building. Across the district, only one candidate (BJP’s N Jacob Zhimomi) had filed his nomination by February 6. But today, as many as 20 candidates filed their nominations. It has been an enthusiastic response,” said Sushil Patel, Deputy Commissioner and District Election Officer, Dimapur.
On Tuesday, the CCNTHCO dissolved itself, saying that “it is for the Naga people to judge as to who threw a spanner in the works of the Naga solution.” Joel Naga, chairman of the ACAUT (Against Corruption and Unabated Taxation), another organisation which supported the joint declaration, resigned from his post.
With the nominations filed, the politics of Nagaland seems to have returned to a state of normalcy, of fragmentation. Dimapur’s skyline is blue and beautiful, dotted with steeples. But the ground below is dusty, potholed from years of neglect, much like the rest of the state.
Every candidate who entered the Dimapur deputy commissioner’s office on Wednesday spoke of changing this, of “finally bringing development, good roads and infrastructure” to Nagaland. “The youth are frustrated with this state of affairs, and want change,” said Wedieu Kronu of the National People’s Party (NPP), contesting from Dimapur-III.
But Mohit Jha, who runs a tea stall outside the commissioner’s office, asked a pertinent question. How? “In most other places, there is always some hope for change, because you can change the government, there are choices. Here, all the frontrunners are the same, or share the same origin,” said Jha, whose father relocated to Nagaland in 1980.
“The NDPP (Nationalist Democratic People’s Party) was born out of the NPF (Naga People’s Front) whose leader Neiphiu Rio was the chief minister. The BJP, which has now allied with the NDPP, was in power with the ruling NPF,” he pointed out.
Much of the conversation around the Dimapur deputy commissioner’s office, among journalists and politicians, revolves around the predictability of Nagaland’s political unpredictability, with no telling how or what political alliances will be forged.
Dr Roland Lotha, NPP general secretary, made it clear that “no government would be formed” without them. “This election is very unpredictable and will throw up a fractured mandate. The NPP will fight in around 30 seats and we will be the kingmakers,” he said.
In such a scenario, where the parties can hardly be differentiated from one another, the casts are the same, and the promises hard to distinguish, Alfred Sema, a customer at Jha’s tea shop, said there was only one thing that would define this election. “As always, money.”