Nagaland stands divided on election announcement

KOHIMA, Jan 19 :The announcement of election dates on Thursday invited a polarised response in Nagaland, with political parties welcoming the move and local organizations strongly protesting against it – with the apex tribal body of the State threatening to boycott the electoral process.
The demand for a resolution of the Naga crisis, talks for which have been on for decades, before the Assembly polls has been gaining ground in the State. The Naga peace talks have centred around the creation of Nagalim, or greater Nagaland, encompassing Naga-dominated areas of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur.
In 2015, the Centre signed a Framework Agreement with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah). Since then, the Naga people have been hoping for a resolution and had expected it to come by the end of 2017, especially after President Ram Nath Kovind hinted at the possibility in December last year.
A team representing the Naga Hoho, the apex body of Naga tribes in the State, is in New Delhi to meet Central officials about the demand. After the election dates were announced, it threatened to boycott the polls. “We urge the Naga people from different walks of life to gear up and defend their inherent rights, and disallow the holding of election in their land,” the Naga Hoho said. It added, “The Centre should understand that the Nagas were extending a helping hand to solving the decades-old Indo-Naga political problem, not asking for favours.”
The powerful Naga Students’ Federation (NSF) also announced that it will go ahead with the protest rally against the elections on January 23 as planned earlier. “The Election Commission declared the poll date without heeding the calls of the Naga people,” NSF president Kesosul Christopher Ltu said.
Ground-level work for the agitation has already begun, with posters – saying ‘No Solution, No Election’, ’20 years of negotiation is enough’, ‘Naga solution for better tomorrow’ and ‘We want solution, not election’ – plastered across the State.
“The Nagas’ struggle for their sovereign right is bound not by the individual interests of political leaders but by the future interests of the Naga people,” the NSF stated.
Amid the protests, political parties are clearly focussed on preparations for the election.
“Though NPF has always wanted an early solution to the Naga political problem, it had been prepared to participate in the elections,” party press secretary Sebastian Zumvu said. On Wednesday, party president Shurhozelie Liezietsu had said NPF would not want a repeat of what happened in 1998, when a demand for postponement of election eventually led to the party being derecognized and the Congress was handed the Government as a “free gift”.
For NPF, looking to hold on to power, party leadership issues stand resolved as of now. With Neiphiu Rio’s departure to the newly-launched party National Democractic Progressive Party on Wednesday, the reins of the party now lie with TR Zeliang. As far as the alliance with BJP is concerned, Zumvu said any decision regarding renewal or severance of ties with the saffron party will be taken by the “appropriate authority”. He added, “It is most likely that the NPF will go to the polls with other like-minded parties.”
Congress was also not opposed to the announcement. “Party president Rahul Gandhi will officially launch our election campaign in the last week of January in Kohima with a mega rally,” president of the State unit of Congress K Therie said.
Congress said it may not field candidates in all 60 seats. BJP, on the other hand, was confident that it will have a key role in the election. “BJP will play kingmaker in Government formation,” party spokesperson K James Vizo said, adding that it will get more than 10 seats in the 60-member House. JD (U), which will initiate its maiden poll venture in the State, said this is set to be one of the complex elections in the history of Nagaland. “JD (U) is gearing up to take part in the election with a meaningful and pragmatic manifesto,” convener of the Nagaland unit of JD (U) NSN Lotha said. TNN

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