Politics

Parties to Boycott February 27 Assembly Polls in Nagaland; Demand Centre Solve Naga Issue First

Following a joint declaration by the parties along with the tribal and civil society groups on January 29, the BJP state unit has sought time “till 12 noon of January 31” to rethink its decision.

The all-party meeting in Kohima on January 29. Credit: By special arrangement

New Delhi: Nagaland is heading towards a possible crisis with as many as 11 political parties in the northeastern state, including the state unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party, arriving at a resolution not to take part in the February 27 assembly elections scheduled in the state – as sought by a collection of influential Naga tribal and civil society organisations and insurgent groups.

However, in a quick turn of events following a joint declaration signed by the parties along with the tribal and civil society groups on January 29, the state unit of BJP has sought time “till 12 noon of January 31” to rethink its decision. The state unit is “holding an emergency meeting” on January 31, following the central leadership’ decision to take part in the elections and suspend the party leaders Kheto Sema and Tsasepi Sangtam for signing the joint declaration on January 30.

The group, which has named itself the Core Committee of the Nagaland Tribal Hohos and Civil Organisations (CCNTHCO), has come under the banner of “Solution before Election” seeking completion of the ongoing negotiations between the central government and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), and lately with the six Naga Nationalist Political Groups (NNPGs), before holding the polls in the state.

The call for a solution to the vexed Naga political issue was first given in mid-January, when a group of Naga tribal and civil society groups led by Naga Hoho, the apex Naga tribal body, submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to postpone the assembly elections and settle the “Indo-Naga political problem” first.  The groups felt that the assembly polls “will create confusion and delay the ongoing Indo-Naga peace process.”

BJP leader Kheto Semas signature in the joint declaration. Credit: By special arrangement

The Naga Students Federation simultaneously undertook a poster campaign across the state on “No Solution No Election”. Some of the posters read, “20 Years of negotiation is enough”, indicating the ongoing peace talks of the Centre with NSCN (I-M) since 1997.

On January 19, even as BJP’s national in-charge for the northeast Ram Madhav, was meeting in a Guwahati hotel the ruling Naga People’s Front (NPF) leader and chief minister T.R. Zeliang and thereafter the state’s Lok Sabha member and the leader of the newly formed Nagaland Democratic People’s Party (NDPP) Neiphu Rio, for a possible alliance of his party with either of these regional parties for the ensuing polls,  a delegation of Naga Hoho was camping in New Delhi seeking postponement of the elections.

On January 17, since a team of the Election Commission of India (ECI) arrived at the state to oversee the poll preparations, the delegation decided to travel to Delhi to meet Union ministers, including home minister Rajnath Singh on the issue. However, Singh said polls are the domain of the ECI and the government can’t do anything about it.

The ECI declared the poll date for Nagaland on January 19.

On returning home, the group, under the name of CCNTHCO, held a few meetings with political parties, asking them to boycott the elections. The NSCN (I-M) reportedly lent its support on January 23. Though the state unit of the BJP didn’t join those meetings, state executive member Kheto Sema and state vice president Tsasepi Sangtam, “authorised” by state chief Visasolie Lhoungu, joined the meeting held in a hotel in Kohima on January 29, and signed the joint declaration to boycott the polls.

In the meeting, the “authorised representatives” of as many as 11 political parties, including the ruling NPF (a partner of the BJP in the state) signed the declaration to not file nominations for the polls till a solution is arrived at. The declaration read, “We, on behalf of all the political parties and the intending candidates, have, in compliance with the wishes of the people, decided not to go ahead with the issuance of party tickets and filing of nominations.”

However, soon after that, Madhav, present in Kohima, told reporters that BJP would contest the elections and action would be taken against Sema and Sangtam. They were thereafter suspended from the party.

It led the CCNTHCO to ask the BJP to “clarify its position with regard to the January 29 joint declaration” stating that it “has created utter chaos in the state”. Co-convenors of CCNTHCO Theja Therieh and David Sangtam said in a press note on January 30, “The BJP cannot speak with (a) forked tongue when even after signing the Joint Declaration, it put in place a most insidious game plan to scuttle the cry of Solution before Election when the party suspends its members for signing the historic declaration when he was authorized by none other than the state BJP president to sign on behalf of the party.”

In a hand-written letter dispatched by the BJP state president Lhoungu to CCNTHCO, he said, “The BJP Nagaland state unit, on our own volition, assure the Naga people that till (the) noon (of) January 31, we would refrain from issuing party tickets even if central command directs us to do.” He said, “we will have an emergency meeting of party office bearers and would convey our decision by 12 noon.”

Meanwhile, minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju, who is the BJP’s election in-charge for the polls, rolled out a series of tweets on the issue on January 30. He said, “Holding of timely election is a constitutional process. The government is bound by the constitution. The government of India attaches utmost importance to the long pending Naga issue. We believe that peaceful election in Nagaland will facilitate the ongoing peace talks and strengthen our commitment.”

He said, “We fully understand the sentiments expressed by the Core Committee of the Nagaland Tribal Hohos and civil organizations (CCNTHCO) but election boycott is not the solution. Let’s have faith in Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji’s commitment.”

Rijiju was reportedly also present in the state along with Madhav when Sema was “authorised” by Lhoungu to attend the meeting.

It may be recalled that in 1998, all political parties, barring the Congress, boycotted elections following a call given by Naga Hoho and NSCN (I-M). The Congress went on to form the government while the election symbol of NPF was frozen by ECI for boycotting the polls.

Speaking to The Wire on condition of anonymity, a senior NPF leader alleged, “The BJP is walking on the Congress’s footsteps to replicate the 1998 trick to grab power in the state.”

Meanwhile, firming up its resolve to stick to its call of “Solution before Election” slogan, CCNTHCO has called a state-wide bandh on February 1, the first day of filing of nominations of the candidates contesting the elections.

As per a resolution taken at an emergency meeting of the BJP state unit in Kohima on January 31, a delegation of the party would visit Delhi to apprise the central leadership of the concerns of the Naga civil society, tribal and political groups. In a letter addressed to the working group of the six NNPGs, state BJP president Lhoungu said the meeting “resolved that as a national party, we have to abide by the central leaders’ directive and therefore accept their invitation to Delhi to apprise them of the matter in the first instance.”

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