Naga LS poll watchers expect new wine from old bottle
DIMAPUR, MARCH 30
NAGALAND has had nine members of the Lok Sabha since 1967 when Naga National Organization pitched Chubatoshi Ao as the state’s first representative to the lower house. Since then, national and regional parties in the state have sent a string of leaders to the state’s lone parliamentary seat.
This time however the state’s ignominy having a history of “faceless MPs” might just break jinx if political observers and intellectuals are feasible in their assessment of the changing political winds.
On April 9, the Nagaland electorate will be deciding the state’s tenth Lok Sabha member when they go to the polls in perhaps one of the most-hyped parliamentary elections in 20 years. Sitting Chief Minister of Nagaland Neiphiu Rio representing the Naga People’s Front, and Indian National Congress leader KV Pusa, and a less-known independent Akhei Achumi, are contesting the seat. This is also Nagaland’s first time that a chief minister is leaving the chair for a chance at national politics.
Unlike previous parliamentary elections, there are actual expectations this time even from strictly apolitical citizens, such as convener of the Naga reconciliation Forum Rev. Dr. Wati Aier. “It is a question that I have never really given a thought,” the pacifist, who is spearheading a current movement to unite the belligerent Naga underground groups, admitted to Eastern Mirror during a recent interaction.
This time the hype has not left even the prominent church leader alone with the antiquities of old: “This is another opportunity for the Nagas to send the right person who can deliver the goods”. Rev. Aier was quick to sidestep a query whether or not previous MPs from Nagaland had failed considering that most faded out of public life sooner as results were declared – leave alone have a monument of political reform to their credit.
“I don’t know whether they did or not, but the representative should represent the Naga political issue in the parliament. Everyone has a role to play – the NGOs, the mothers, the church and even the state,” he said in reply.
Observers agree that Naga Members of Parliament could not register impact for the state’s condition as it has practically been for the past more than 50 years. The cynicism of the observers is both empirical as well as didactic.
Rio was off-limits as usual to the local media. However, his press official Abu Metha represented him on Saturday. “Why is it (the Lok Sabha elections this time) different? You tell me. He is sacrificing his chief minister’s chair; he is the convener of the North East Regional Parties Forum. He is going to the center to not only take the people’s voice but also the people of the whole region,” Metha explained to this reporter.
He suggested that the chief minister – assuming centre takes a change of guard – can be in a stronger position to issues such as the Naga political problem at the centre. “We are sure that things will improve,” Metha added.
The optimism may have found some rain in the camp of the Congress though. The Indian National Congress’ candidate Kezehol V Pusa is not convinced. The condition of the state is not lost on the former Naga Pradesh Congress Committee leader. “I agree wholly”, Pusa said, with the statement of Roads minister Kuzholuzo Nienu five days ago that the next chief minister “should be able to provide better, stronger and cleaner government”.
Pusa said the “meaning” is all there in Nienu’s statement itself. He was alluding to the legacy of ruin which the opposition has been accusing Neiphiu Rio of leaving, and ‘fleeing to the center’.
For veteran minister KV Pusa, all he wants is to represent the people: “I would like to go and take as much time and opportunity as possible to speak for the Naga people”, the Congress man said.
Neiphiu Rio, or KV Pusa or Akhei Achumi winning the parliamentary seat, however, is secondary considering the uneventful history of MPs the state has had, and the possible defining moment the April 9 Lok Sabha polls could become. Consulting Editor of The Morung Express and political analyst Along Longkumer believes that the crux of the events is not in the personality but in what he called ‘timing’ – a situational perfectness of both opportunity and possibility. And, Longkumer said the Naga electorate must make a ‘smart choice’ this time.
“I think timing is important. We have to make realistic moves, and smart choices. I am not sure if the BJP will come to power (at the centre) but Rio has read the situation well,” the senior media personality said. He conceded that Nagaland have sent some ‘marginal leaders’ to represent the state in the past.
While they did not ‘fail’ per se, the senior journalist suggested, there could have been more that was accomplished. He felt that the current election – and if the chief minister gets a central berth – could influence some new developments primarily for the fact that the state might just have a stronger platform in airing its problems nationally.
‘There could be changes not only in terms of development but also influence policy-making. However, it depend on the person who is elected,” the political observer said. “He has a plan. The question now is how he will execute the plan if the BJP comes to power. Still, we don’t have anything to lose” Longkumer added.
There is not clarity or agreement how far the polls would impact the state’s relentless need for a stronger law and order governance, good governance and security for the people or addressing welfare issues in the government and public services.
The reason is, not many observers feel that Naga MPs have actually affected tangible policy-reforms in both administrative and actual ground situation in Nagaland, leave alone the influence a solution to the Naga political problem.
The first MP from Nagaland to the Lok Sabha was Chubatoshi Ao (1967), followed by the United Front of Nagaland’s A Kevichusa (1971), United Democratic Front’s Rano M Shazia (1977), INC’s Chingwang Konyak (1980, 1984), INC’s Shikino Sam (1989) and Imchalemba(1991, 1996 representing NPC and later INC). In the latter 90s, K Asungba Sangtam of the INC sat two terms as MP in 1998 and 1999. He was followed by the NPF’s W Wangyuh Konyak in 2004 and CM Chang in 2009.
Local youth leader of the Northern Angami Youth Organization, Peter Rutsa says: “I don’t think we can exactly call them failed. We are a minority and have to fight hard, shout louder and fight for our voice to be heard (in the parliament)”. But this election could well be a defining era considering that a new tradition is being created. For instance, he said “we can’t expect much” from Neiphiu Rio, or for that matter KV Pusa. But “we can expect a better representation of the Naga people (at the center)”.