Nagaland is going through a tumultuous time ever since the Assembly election was declared. Despite several Naga civil society groups and political parties writing to Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat, appealing to him to defer the polls so that an early solution to the seven-decade-old Naga insurgency issue is inked, the Assembly election in Nagaland is scheduled for 27 February.
Nagaland-based civil society groups have demanded the signing of a final peace accord with the insurgent group NSCN-IM before the assembly elections in the state. The separatist National Socialist Council of Nagalim-Issac Muivah, which had signed the Framework Agreement to end Naga insurgency in August 2015 with the central government that was hailed as “historic” by Modi, had claimed that the decision to hold elections was bound to undermine progress in the ongoing talks. Congress president Rahul Gandhi too took a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the Naga Accord signed by the Centre in 2015, saying that the accord is nowhere to be found.
The deal was signed in the presence of the prime minister, home minister Rajnath Singh and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval by the outfit’s leader T Muivah and government’s interlocutor, RN Ravi.
While the Nagaland Legislative Assembly had in December 2017 resolved to urge the Government of India to ensure a solution to the Indo-Naga political issue before holding elections in the state, the opposition by civil organisations to the demand had taken many by surprise. Local social media groups saw a large section of educated Nagas openly voicing their disagreement to the call for boycotting elections. Many also questioned the presence of ACAUT, an anti-corruption activist group, in the core committee as it had been at the forefront of the Clean Election Campaign initiated by the Nagaland Baptist Churches Council.
With little progress in the accord since then, a joint declaration was issued by the NSCN (IM) and the working committee of six other Naga national political groups, stating that they support the demand of the Naga tribal bodies and civil society to find a solution to the peace negotiation before the election, something the Centre has been non-committal on. As many as 11 political parties, including the ruling Naga People’s Front, and the Bharatiya Janata Party, endorsed a joint declaration on 29th January which cautioning that any candidate or party defying the call will be treated as “anti-Naga” and not to issue party ticket or file nominations for the assembly polls in response to the call by various tribal groups for “Solution before Election”. In a significant development the BJP backed out of the joint declaration and announced that it would contest the election.
The CCNTHCO (Core Committee of Nagaland Tribal Hohos and Civil Organisations) had sought the support of the political parties to its call for a solution to the protracted Naga political issue first. A 12-hour bandh is being called by the CCNTHCO in the state on 1st February against the poll notification despite the general appeal for a solution to the Naga political problem before the election. The Naga Hoho, an apex Naga tribal body, had sought Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s help in postponing the forthcoming Nagaland assembly elections, saying that the vexed insurgency problem should be resolved first.
Interestingly, the call to boycott the election is seen as a repetition of history, as a similar call was made by the NSCN(IM) ahead of the 1998 Assembly election. Most of the parties did not field candidates in that election and the Congress party won most of the seats uncontested.
As for the Nagaland state assembly, the Naga People’s Front is currently dominating the House. The Democratic Alliance of Nagaland is a state level coalition of political parties of the state which also includes the BJP. Ahead of the Assembly polls, the ruling Naga People’s Front (NPF) suffered a setback with two of its MLAs, including a minister and six Independents resigning and giving up their membership of the Assembly.
The BJP has left its alliance partner, the ruling Naga People’s Front (NPF) to join hands with newly formed Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) led by former chief minister Neiphiu Rio. The BJP has signed a seat-sharing agreement with NDPP, where it agreed that the BJP will contest only in 20 seats leaving 40 seats for the allying party in the state – which has 60 Assembly seats. The BJP has since come up with a tentative list of candidates for the election. JD(U) of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, which was part of ruling Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) with Naga People’s Front and BJP, have walked out of the coalition and is contesting the assembly poll on its own.
Most of the political parties are prepared for the election but have not announced it publicly with expectation that the BJP would be the first to take this step as they fear of being the first to be marked as “anti-Naga”.
The last date for filing the nominations is 7th February. The Polling on all 60 seats in Nagaland will be held on February 27 while the counting of votes will be done on 3rd March.