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Chance for peace

Print edition : Apr 11, 2008 T+T-
Neiphiu Rio (right) being sworn in as Chief Minister by Governor K. Sankaranarayanan in Kohima on March 12.-PTI

Neiphiu Rio (right) being sworn in as Chief Minister by Governor K. Sankaranarayanan in Kohima on March 12.-PTI

The Democratic Alliance of Nagaland is re-elected to power, but the coalition is under pressure to keep each one of its legislators happy.

THE results of the March 5 Assembly elections in Nagaland shattered any hope the Congress may have had about capturing power in the north-eastern State. The arithmetic was in favour of the Neiphiu Rio-led Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN). The DAN was short of the majority mark by one seat but had no difficulty in mobilising the support of independents to cobble up the magic figure of 31 in a House of 60.

A 12-member DAN Ministry headed by Rio was sworn in by Governor K. Sankaranarayanan at the Raj Bhavan in Kohima on March 12, after the Union Cabinet recommended revocation of Presidents Rule to pave the way for the formation of a new government. In order to prevent any attempt by the Congress to wean away those legislators who had been left out of the new Ministry, 13 DAN legislators were inducted as Parliamentary Secretaries immediately after the Rio Ministry took the oath of office. One of the four independents supporting the DAN has been rewarded with a Cabinet berth while two others have been made Parliamentary Secretaries.

Rios Nagaland Peoples Front (NPF), the major constituent of the DAN, emerged stronger in the elections: it won 26 seats to become the single largest party in the new Assembly. The regional party improved its tally by seven seats from the 19 it won in the 2003 polls. Two other constituents of the DAN, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), secured two seats each. The Congress, which contested from all the 60 constituencies, won 23 seats, two more than its previous score.

The BJP won seven seats in the previous elections. It was allotted four seats this time in a pre-poll agreement. The NPF fielded 56 candidates and in 19 seats it was involved in friendly contests with the BJP. This experiment seems to have benefited the NPF as it prevented non-NPF votes from going to Congress candidates. In Assam, a similar experiment in the 2001 Assembly polls had cost the BJP and the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), both allies, dear. None of the four women candidates got elected this time. Ironically, the declaration of results coincided with the International Womens Day.

Neiphiu Rio was re-elected from the Northern Angami constituency, by a huge margin of 10,761 votes, for the fifth time. Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader I. Imkong was re-elected by a margin of 3,926 votes from the Jangpetkong constituency and former Congress Chief Minister K.L. Chisi won from the DimapurI constituency by a margin of 2,311 votes.

The polling recorded a high turnout, with 86.8 per cent of the 13,02,266 voters exercising their franchise. In the 2003 elections, the turnout was 87.79 per cent.

Barring some stray incidents, polling was by and large peaceful. However, during the run-up to the polls, the parties alleged that cadre of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, Khaplang faction, had resorted to intimidation of candidates. The NSCN(I-M) said the Naga political cause was more important and the organisation would not compromise its principles by participating in the elections held under the Indian Constitution.

The NSCN (Khaplang) asked all underground organisations not to involve themselves in any manner in the elections. The Naga National Council (NNC) had conducted a poster campaign against the elections across the State.

The results of the polls have proved media analysts wrong. They had built their election coverage around predicting the outcome on the basis of pro- and anti-incumbency factors, which was nothing but an oversimplification of a complex process. The bad condition of the 74-kilometre stretch of National Highway 74, linking Dimapur and Kohima, and frequent power breakdowns in the capital city and acute power shortage in most other parts of the State, two extreme instances of lack of basic infrastructure, were sufficient grounds to reject the DAN, on the basis of the anti-incumbency factor. But the political behaviour of voters was determined by the NPFs main poll plank the imposition of Presidents Rule.

The illegal dismissal of the DAN government by the Congress evoked a huge response among voters and the results have indicated that this issue overshadowed the Congress campaign against the corruption and misrule of the DAN government.

State Congress leaders felt that, contrary to expectations, the imposition of Presidents Rule did not benefit the party. They attribute the partys defeat to the dissatisfaction among those who were denied the ticket. Inclusion of defectors from the NPF in the candidates list certainly added to the disgruntlement. Six NPF defectors got elected on the Congress ticket.

The NPF claims that the DAN would have won more seats had Presidents Rule not been imposed on January 3, one month before the government could complete its full term. The proclamation of Central rule brought an end to a seven-month-long political drama marked by a series of defections and resignations.

Rio contended that Presidents Rule was imposed to allow the Congress to misuse the government machinery in electioneering. On the political side, the return of the DAN at the helm is expected to give a push to the ongoing Naga peace process between the NSCN(I-M) and the Government of India.

Rio said that his government would continue to act as facilitator in the process and put pressure on New Delhi to expedite the talks. He said the resolution of the Naga problem would bring permanent peace to Nagaland, which, he believed, was essential for any development activity.

Immediately after the swearing-in ceremony, Rio announced that the DAN would constitute a Political Affairs Committee to contact all underground outfits and civil society groups with the objective of fostering unity among all sections of the Naga family. The Chief Minister also said that the DAN government would give priority to the policy of peace for development and development for peace, the policy it had pursued in its previous term. The DAN also harped on the integration of contiguous Naga inhabited areas, which is also the declared policy of the NPF. The Congress too had raised the issue of integration of Naga-inhabited areas, but the voters were perhaps not convinced about its intentions as the party talked about the implementation of the unimplemented clauses of the historic 16-point agreement signed between the Government of India and the erstwhile Naga Peoples Convention in July 1960.

Clause 13 of the agreement states that the other Naga tribes inhabiting the areas contiguous to the present Nagaland be allowed to join Nagaland if they so desire, but there has been no direct commitment from the Centre about its implementation.

The NPF, on the other hand, did not restrict itself to the idea of integration of the Naga-inhabited areas of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur. It went a step further to promise voters that it would urge the Centre to seek due recognition for the Naga people living in Myanmar, an issue already made popular by the NSCN(I-M). This gave the NPF an edge over the Congress. The NSCN(I-M) has raised the issue relentlessly in the course of its peace negotiations with the Centre in the past 10 years. During his election campaign in the State, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a commitment that the Congress was willing to go the extra mile to find an honourable solution to the vexed Naga problem and bring long-lasting peace to the State. The DAN government is likely to use this offer to pressure the Centre to resolve the Naga political issue.

The Congress did not stake its claim to form the government as it did not have the numbers. However, the Nagaland Pradesh Congress Committee president, Hokheto Sumi, said the party would wait and see, pointing out that the DAN government was a coalition and not a single-party government. The Congress should take advantage of that fact, he said.

With the Congress keeping a vigil, Rio will be under pressure to keep every DAN legislator happy to ensure the stability of his government.