Nagaland is all set to go to yet another Assembly polls on February 27 without solution to the vexed Naga peace process despite the fact that the 2018 Assembly polls were widely termed as “elections for solution”.
The people voted for the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the last elections, anticipating a solution, as they were disillusioned with the Naga People’s Front (NPF) and the Congress. Riding high on the fact that they virtually had no Opposition left in the last term after 21 NPF MLAs merged with them, the BJP-NDPP alliance led by Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio is hoping to beat the anti-incumbency and retain power in the hill state.
The BJP is fighting on 20 seats while the rest 40 seats are being contested by its alliance partner NDPP. The BJP has promised a special package for Eastern Nagaland in its manifesto with an aim to quell the demand for a separate state. Though Home Minister Amit Shah on Monday in a poll rally again promised a ‘quick solution’ to Naga conflict, in the manifesto the is silent on the issue.
Also read: BJP manifesto promises package for eastern Nagaland, preservation of Naga culture
The Naga conflict
The Centre has been holding separate negotiations with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), or NSCN-IM, since 1997 and the Working Committee of Naga National Political Group (NNPG), comprising seven groups, since 2017.
In 2015, the Centre signed a preliminary Framework Agreement with NSCN-IM and a separate preliminary ‘agreed position’ agreement with NNPGs in 2017. But the talks with NSCN-IM are stuck on its two demands for a separate flag and constitution.
Among the major threats that the ruling alliance faces is the fact it is heading into polls without a solution to the Naga issue. Besides, the BJP’s anti-conversion campaign in other states could result in the powerful church in the Christian-majority state expressing support for other parties. Only a few days back, Reverend Kedo Pedesiye read out two special prayer points at the City Church in Kohima, the first was about voting in the state Assembly elections on February 27 and the other on the “persecuted Church and Christians in India”. The apex body of Baptist churches also shared the message with all the 1,708 churches across the state affiliated to it. This doesn’t augur well for the ruling alliance.
BJP-NDPP on strong wicket
Nevertheless, the BJP-NDPP alliance seems formidable in the state, reflected by the fact that it is the only alliance contesting all 60 seats and their tickets were much in demand. Also, the NPF not ruling out a post-poll alliance may also come as a boost to the BJP-NDPP combine if they fall short of the majority mark.
As far as the NPF is concerned, the party has fielded 22 candidates this time, contending that the situation has compelled them to focus only on “winnable candidates” this time. The NPF is hoping to win 12 to 15 seats and may well play the role of a kingmaker once the poll results are out.
Also read: Drugs replace liquor as bribe for voters in poll-bound Nagaland: DGP
Cong: A battle ahead
On the other hand, the Congress aims to recover its lost ground in Nagaland after being decimated in the last elections when it drew a blank. The party is banking on its anti-Hindutva stand in Christian-dominated state, no headway in the Naga peace talks and dissenting voices over ticket distribution in NDPP, particularly after 21 NPF MLAs merged with the ruling party.
The Congress has also reached out to the Church and the NNPG, an umbrella body of six Naga insurgent groups. These bodies wield significant clout over Naga voters. The group had eight MLAs in 2013.
Three regional players from Bihar — JD(U), RJD and LJP (Ram Vilas) — are also in the poll fray. The JD(U) had won three seats in 2003 and one in 2013. The LJP has fielded candidates from 15 seats, while JD(U) is contesting seven seats. The RJD is fighting elections on three seats.