In the northernmost district of Manipur, a family feud in one of the most powerful Tangkhul Naga families has become the talking point of the elections. Ukhrul is the home district of the NSCN(IM), which is in talks with the Indian government to settle the Naga dispute of 60 years.
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Two of the three BJP candidates contesting Wednesday hail from the family of V S Atem, former NSCN(IM) army commander and member of its steering committee. The candidate in Ukhrul is Somtai Shaiza, son-in-law of Atem’s brother Dr Nelson Vashum. Another brother of Atem, Sword Vashum, is the BJP candidate from Chingai.
This when the NSCN(IM) has thrown its weight behind the Naga People’s Front, and when it has a diktat that senior NSCN(IM) “officers” and their relatives cannot contest.
Two weeks ago, Atem issued a statement distancing himself from Vashum’s decision to contest. A BJP insider says, “Vashum was doing so well that he was literally told to sit down.’
Vashum, 68, retired as additional deputy comptroller and accountant general in 2009. In 2015, he quit the NPF and joined the BJP.
Shaiza, who lost on a Trinamool ticket in 2012, says this election is more “sensitive”. He suddenly gets a call from a BJP worker in a village, and asks his staff to send someone there to “handle” the situation. “These NSCN(IM) cadres have been threatening villagers, especially in far-flung villages, to vote only for the NPF.”
The NSCN(IM) has instructed all village councils to not entertain candidates of any party but the NPF.
Shaiza comes from a political family. His uncle Yangmaso Shaiza was a former chief minister of Manipur. Another uncle, W Shazia was a former chief secretary of Delhi.
In Shirui village, named after the famously elusive Shirui Lily, a village council meeting is under way, its 817 voters divided on their choice. The village headman or awunga, Khavangpam Wungsek, says his family will vote for the NPF. Says Chanchi Shangh, 30 and unemployed, “Employment and development are important issues, but greater autonomy for Nagas and a separate administration from the present Ibobi government is the most important issue of all.”
The Naga Peace Accord has been kept strategically out of the BJP manifesto in Manipur. “This is because the BJP candidates in the valley will lose if this is included,’’ says a BJP worker.