The Centre would appear to have played by the rules by ignoring the demands of several Naga civil organisations and also rebel groups to find a lasting solution to the 70-year-old Naga problem before holding the assembly election, scheduled for 27 February. For one, the democratic exercise could not have been deferred and nothing can force its cancellation unless the Centre is convinced the prevailing law and order situation is uncontrollable.
For that matter today Nagaland is very much peaceful. Before the 2009 assembly election also, similar demands were raised. Then chief minister Neiphiu Rio even formed a joint forum of legislators, opposition team included, and submitted it to the Centre. Earlier, in 1998, following the boycott call by the influential, opinion-forming Naga Hoho, most political parties did not put up their candidates.
The result: the Congress reaped a rich harvest; Rio was the home minister in the SC Jamir Congress government. Five months before the 2003 assembly election he quit and helped form the Nagaland People’s Front. He later changed it to Naga People’s Front to enable it to participate in the Manipur assembly election, apparently to support the NSCN (IM) leadership’s Greater Nagaland concept. In the first attempt the party secured four seats.
What motivated three-time chief minister Rio to quit the post after serving for 11 years and contest the 2014 parliamentary poll was his ambition to become a Central cabinet minister. His thinking was that since he was instrumental in helping the BJP secure seven seats on debut in the 2003 assembly election, albeit with the proxy support of the NSCN(IM), the BJP would reciprocate. But when this did not materialise, he started dabbling in state politics and even supported dissidents against his successor, TR Zeliang.
Suspended for anti-party activities, he recently quit and formed the National Democratic Progressive Party. When the BJP realised that the NPF, its partner since 2003, had little chance of faring well in the ensuing poll, it quickly signed a seat-sharing arrangement with Rio’s party and is to contest 20 of the 60 seats.
Several former Congress leaders have joined the saffron bandwagon, one of them is former Congress chief minister KL Chishi, who in the late 1980s toppled Hokishe Sema’s fairly stable Congress government while he was away in Japan. Some years ago Chishi declared assets worth Rs 46.77 crore and was the richest among several candidates. He continues to be so, now with Rs 38.1 crore.
Naga politicians claim they are serious about early peaceful settlement of the Naga problem, but what they are exhibiting now is not so much the craving for lasting peace as leadership for supremacy. Apparently, no leader likes to be left out when the final transfer of power takes place.