Nagaland Assembly polls on 27 Feb: As NPF tries to retain political dominance, talks with rebel groups take centre stage

An overview of the Assembly elections in the NorthEastern state of Nagaland, which are scheduled to be held in February 2018

FP Politics January 22, 2018 13:44:25 IST
Nagaland Assembly polls on 27 Feb: As NPF tries to retain political dominance, talks with rebel groups take centre stage

Nagaland chief minister TR Zeliang said on Saturday that a solution was necessary for the seven-decade-old Naga insurgency before upcoming Assembly elections in the state. "Solution is a must for all the Nagas and it must arrive for the sake of permanent peace in the land. And that is why solution first and then election," Zeliang said.

The Election Commission on 18 January announced election dates for three northeastern states, Nagaland being one of them. Nagaland, along with Meghalaya, will vote on 27 February, while the results will be declared on 3 March. Voting in all the three states will be conducted in a single phase.

For Nagaland, the Election Commission released a revised electoral roll on Wednesday, naming a total of 11,89,264 voters, which reflects a 2.2 percent increase from the draft electoral roll published in October 2017, The Economic Times reported.

"In the revised roll around 6,00,536 are male and 5,88,728 are female. We will use Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) across the 2194 polling stations," the report quoted chief electoral officer Abhijit Sinha as saying. On Thursday, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said that the election in Nagaland will be held on schedule, amid demands by the state's civil society groups for deferring the polls.

Here is a brief overview of the Assembly elections in Nagaland, and what we may expect for the 2018 polls:

Numbers about Nagaland:

Sharing borders with Assam to the West, Arunachal Pradesh to the north, Myanmar to the east and Manipur to the south, Nagaland has a population of 19,80,602, according to the 2011 Census report. Of this, over 14 lakh lives in rural areas, the Census report says.

Nagaland is the only state to record a population drop between the 2001 and 2011 Census reports. The 0.47 percent drop has been attributed to incorrect and inefficient past censuses.

Nagaland Assembly polls on 27 Feb As NPF tries to retain political dominance talks with rebel groups take centre stage

A scene from Khonoma village, on the outskirts of Kohima, the capital of Nagaland. Reuters

Sixteen separate tribes, each distinct in its culture and traditions, inhabit Nagaland. They are: Angami, Ao, Chakhesang, Chang, Kachari, Khiamniungan, Konyak, Kuki, Lotha, Phom, Pochury, Rengma, Sangtam, Sumi, Yimchunger, and Zeme-Liangmai.

While a significant majority (almost 18 lakh of the 19.8 lakh population) of these tribes follow Christianity, Nagaland also has many Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist and Jain residents. With a literacy of 80.11 percent across the state, the predominant language spoken in the state is English.

The grosss state domestic product (GSDP) of Nagaland was about ₹12,065 crore in 2011-12. The state’s GSDP grew at 9.9 percent compounded annually for a decade, more than doubling the per capita income.

Local politics

A state-level coalition of political parties called Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) has been in power in Nagaland since 2003. The alliance consists of Naga People's Front (NPF), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Janata Dal (United).

The last Assembly election of 2013 saw the NPF sweep the polls with 37 seats, followed by the BJP and JD(U) with two and one seat respectively.

Being the leader in the DAN coalition, the NPF has the biggest say in the selection of chief ministers. Neiphie Rio was the state’s chief minister for two full terms, from 2003 to 2013. He also served as the chief minister for a short third consecutive term before TR Zeliang succeeded him in 2014.

Rio became a member of the Lok Sabha after he registered a landslide victory in 2014, eclipsed only by the winning margin of Narendra Modi.

Infighting within the ruling NPF

In July 2017, battling infight, the NPF expelled 19 MLAs owing allegiance to ousted chief minister Shurhozelie Liezietsu and suspended 10 legislators belonging to incumbent TR Zeliang's camp, two days after Zeliang was sworn-in after a controversial trust vote.

Days earlier, Liezietsu and his supporters failed to turn up in the Assembly to face the floor test, following which the House was adjourned sine die.

Governor PB Acharya had previously directed Liezietsu, who was facing rebellion by 43 ruling NPF MLAs led by Zeliang demanding change of leadership in the House, to seek a vote of confidence.

Zeliang, who was forced out of office in February 2017 following large-scale protests over holding of urban local bodies election with 33 percent reservation for women, had staked claim to form the government saying he had majority support in the House.

Months later in December 2017, in a possible end to the bickering within the NPF, Chief Minister Zeliang and NPF president Liezietsu signed a document to reconcile and re-unite.

Health Minister Imkong L Imchen, who is in the Zeliang camp, said the process was initiated as a solution to the long awaited Naga political crisis regarding insurgency is expected to be reaching the final stage. "As legislators we thought it is best to work together for a final settlement without difference to achieve the common aspiration of the Naga people," he said.

Another reason for the reconciliation, Imchen said, was the acknowledgement of the directive of the Election Commission of India to reconcile and resolve the matter as per provisions of the NPF constitution.

Demand for a peace accord and talks with rebel groups

On 8 January 2017, a state-based organisation urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to defer the state's Assembly election and impose President's Rule in order to facilitate a solution to the vexed Naga insurgency.

It said, "If elections are held in Nagaland for the sake of constitutional process before the completion of the negotiation process with the six Naga National Political Groups (or rebel groups) and the NSCN-IM, then solution to Naga problems will remain a mirage," reminding Modi of his promise to resolve the issue within 18 months.

Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju told The Hindu that he does not want the insurgency issue linked to the elections.

“This election is special and challenging as talks are going on between the NSCN-IM and our interlocutor (RN Ravi). While talks are going on, many people expect it to conclude fast and the election process to start thereafter. We don’t want to link the talks with elections,” he said.

Naga Hoho, the apex Naga tribal body, also said that solving the insurgency problem is more important than elections.

"It is the unanimous view of the Naga people that the political solution or Naga Peace Accord is more important than elections and therefore, it has become imperative that the elections to the legislative assembly of Nagaland be deferred for peace and tranquility," the tribal body said.

The expectations for a lasting peace have soared in Nagaland, which had been hit by insurgency for decades, after the Centre and the NSCN-IM signed a framework agreement in 2015.

The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), commonly known as NSCN-IM, has been engaged with peace talks with the Centre’s interlocutor since 1997, when it announced a ceasefire agreement after a bloody insurgency movement that began soon after India’s Independence.

Nagaland Assembly polls on 27 Feb As NPF tries to retain political dominance talks with rebel groups take centre stage

A 2005 image of Naga rebels celebrating the 58th anniversary of unilateral day of independence at Hebron Camp in Nagaland. Fifty-eight years ago, just hours before India won independence from Britain, Christian Naga separatists declared they did not want to be part of the new Hindu-dominated nation. Reuters

During a visit to Nagaland in November 2017, President Ram Nath Kovind said the state was at the threshold of making history as the final agreement on the Naga political issue would soon be arrived at and a lasting peace achieved.

On 19 September 2017, Nagaland governor PB Acharya had said the issue would be solved “within a few months”.

Seeking to allay concerns of the three Northeastern states, Rajnath Singh had said on 8 November 2017 that the territorial integrity of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur would not be compromised on while inking the final Naga Peace Accord.

NSCN-IM's key demand is to integrate Naga-inhabited areas of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur, which has been strongly opposed by the BJP-ruled states.

The beef burden

Amid a crackdown by governments in states like Uttar Pradesh to enforce a ban on cow slaughter and illegal abattoirs, political parties in Christian-majority Nagaland have been prompt to declare that its residents do not have to fear a similar exercise.

“Bans on cow slaughter like the one in UP won’t take effect in Nagaland if our party comes to power. The reality here is very different and our central leaders are aware of that,” Nagaland BJP chief Visasolie Lhoungu told Hindustan Times.

After Yogi Adityanath dared Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah to ban cow slaughter and beef in the state if he proclaimed to be a Hindu, Rijiju said the BJP will not run a similar campaign in Karnataka.

"India has different regions with different characteristics, habits, culture and background. We must be sensitive to the sentiments of people in different regions. In Karnataka, a majority of the people have a particular ingrained sentiment that is for that area and it must be respected. You cannot replicate slogans for Karnataka in Nagaland... Yogiji has said what he did in Karnataka, not in Nagaland."

Nagaland Assembly polls on 27 Feb As NPF tries to retain political dominance talks with rebel groups take centre stage

File image of Naga tribesmen after a march in Kohima, Nagaland. Reuters

Key Players in the 2018 polls

After running multiple successful election campaigns consecutively, the ruling NPF remains the strongest political party in the state, even after the internal conflicts. Its ally BJP, however, wants more say in the alliance and is hence gunning for more seats in the Assembly this year.

When asked about seat adjustments with the NPF, Union minister Rijiju, who is in charge of BJP’s campaign in the state, said, “We have not started the talks on seat adjustment, but we will definitely have a bigger share this time, but we will not be unreasonable.”

“During the elections in 2012, the BJP fought in very few seats, whereas in 2007 we won seven seats. An NDA government is absolutely necessary in Nagaland because the Congress that ruled the State for so long has failed miserably,” Rijiju said.

However, the Congress, which is the most prominent Opposition party in Nagaland, said the BJP will not pose a threat and is therefore going to fight the 2018 election without support from other parties.

"NPCC will be the real challenger for NPF in the 2018 hustings as other parties won’t pose any threat. We will be fighting alone," Nagaland Pradesh Congress Committee (NPCC) President K Therie said.

The 2018 elections will also see new players competing for space in the 60-seat Assembly. The Aam Aadmi Party announced it will contest all 60 seats, according to Eastern Mirror.

AAP said it will focus on improving existing infrastructure such as roads and education. “Nagaland is facing lots of problem where the state education system is at its worst, with poor road condition and health system,” party leader Sanjay Singh said.

With inputs from agencies

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