The ruling Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance swept the Assembly election in Nagaland winning 37 seats of the 60 seats. The NDPP has emerged stronger with its tally increasing from 18 in 2018 to 25 now; but the BJP’s tally remained unchanged at 12 seats. The NDPP’s spectacular showing paved the way for Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio’s fifth term, a record. The NDPP contested 40 seats and the BJP 20.
Two women candidates, Hekani Jakhalu and Salhoutuonuo Kruse, both fielded by the NDPP, made history by becoming the first ever elected women representatives in the State Assembly. In a keenly contested electoral battle in Western Angami, Kruse defeated an independent candidate by just seven votes. Jakhalu defeated her nearest rival, Azheto Zhimomi, of the Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas) in Dimapur III by 1,536 votes. Their victories are a shot in the arm for the Naga Mothers Association (NMA) which has been at the forefront of the movement for 33 per cent reservation for women in urban local bodies (ULB) in the State. The NMA also appealed to the political parties to field women candidates. In March 2022, the Neiphio Rio government announced its decision to hold election to ULBs with 33 per cent reservation for women after the Supreme Court granted it six weeks’ time to decide the modalities of implementing the reservation.
Party positions in the new 14th Nagaland Assembly are as follows: NDPP 25, BJP 12, Naga People’s Front (NPF) 2, National People’s Party (NPP) 5, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) 7, LJP (Ram Vilas) 2, Republican Party of India (Athawale) 2, and Independents 4.
In 2018, party positions were: NPF 25, NDPP 18, BJP 12, NPP 2, JD(U) 1, and Independents 1.
The NDPP’s vote share has increased to 32.22 per cent from 25.30 in 2018, while the BJP’s vote share has increased to 18.8 per cent from 15.31 even though its tally remains unchanged. BJP candidates secured the second place in the remaining eight seats the party contested. Vote shares of other parties (in per cent): NCP 9.56, NPF 7.09, NPP 5.78, Congress 3.55, JD(U) 3.25, and LJP(RV) 8.65.
While the Congress drew a blank for the second time, the NPF managed to win only two seats against the 26 it won last time. The NPF joined the NDPP-BJP coalition to form the government in order to expedite the Naga peace process, but the party lost 21 MLAs who merged with the NDPP ahead of the election.
The NDPP wooing the NPF legislators helped it to consolidate its strength, which also dashed the BJP’s hopes of securing more numbers to become the major player in the ruling coalition. Compared with the 2018 mandate which gave an advantage to the BJP, this time the NDPP will have the option of seeking support of the NPF, Independents, and other like-minded parties.
Rio won by 15,824 against his Congress rival, Seyievile Sachu, from Northern Angami. The BJP’s N. Jacob Zhimomi won by the highest margin of 20,096 votes from Ghaspani-I constituency defeating the Independent candidate V. Pushika Aomi who polled 11,941 votes. Other prominent winners include former Chief Minister T.R. Zeliang, Deputy Chief Minister and senior BJP leader Y. Patton, and the party’s Nagaland State president Temjen Imna Along. Zeliang has won for the eighth consecutive term since 1989. In a tweet, Zeliang, who was also the chairman of the United Democratic Alliance in the outgoing Assembly, said: “The welfare of the people of Peren and the Naga political issue will be my top priority.”
The BJP State president won from Alongtaki constituency by 3,748 votes defeating his nearest JD(U) rival J. Lanu Longchar. A local leader of the Naga nationalist and separatist group National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) (NSCN(IM)) had issued a diktat asking voters in all villages in the constituency not to vote for Nagaland BJP president Temjen Imna Along. The NSCN(IM) issued a clarification on February 22 stating that the directive issued by the local leader of the rebel group was “of his own accord”. “There is no written order from the Ministry of Kilo Affairs (the Ministry of Home Affairs of the parallel government run by NSCN(IM)) and regretted the confusion created after “the so-called directive” had gone viral on social media.
Two days ahead of polling, the NSCN(IM) issued another statement asking “the NSCN members/officials involved in the election campaign” to refrain from taking part in the election campaign/mobilisation. It warned of disciplinary action against any NSCN member(s) found violating the directive.
“It has come to the knowledge of the collective leadership of the NSCN that certain NSCN members are reportedly using the name of the collective leadership and authorities of the NSCN in the election campaigning in favour of certain party candidates,” stated the NSCN(IM) and added that no instruction or directive to the NSCN members had been issued to take part in the Nagaland State election and campaign in favour of any individual or candidates and political parties. “If found doing so, they are doing it at their own individual capacity and risk,” warned the statement.
Spotlight on Eastern Nagaland
As soon as the government formation is over, the stalled peace process and resolution of the Statehood demand in Eastern Nagaland are poised to return to the centre stage of political discourse in the State. The NDPP promised its commitment to the final solution to the vexed Naga political problem. The BJP manifesto was silent on the Naga peace talks issue but promised a special package for Eastern Nagaland. BJP national president J.P. Nadda while releasing the manifesto claimed that the solution to the Naga political issue was in the final stage and that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was very keen for an expeditious solution.
Talks between the NSCN(IM) and the Government of India reached a dead end over the former’s insistence for a separate flag and constitution for Nagas and a solution based on “unique history and sovereign right of the Naga”. NSCN Chairman Ino Q. Tuccu, on the 44th NSCN Raising Day, on January 31, 2023, stated: “Let me be very clear that in the course of pursuing Naga solution on the basis of the Naga national principles, we shall uphold the recognized unique history and sovereign right of the Nagas at all cost, and no other agreement should come in between. We cannot afford to dilute the sanctity of the Naga political issue under any pretext.”
The Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation (ENPO) withdrew its poll boycott call in Eastern Nagaland areas over its Statehood demand after the promise by Union Home Minister Amit Shah assured the organisation of finding a mutually agreed solution following due process after the election. The Eastern Nagaland areas comprise 20 Assembly constituencies in six of the16 districts in the State—Mon, Tuensang, Kiphire, Shamator, Longleng, and Noklak.
Of these 20 seats, the NDPP and the BJP won four seats each, the NCP and the NPP won three each, while the LJP, the RPI, and Independents won two seats each. In the outgoing Assembly, Eastern Nagaland districts had 15 legislators of the NDPP, four of the BJP, and one independent. The declining influence of the NDPP-BJP in Eastern Nagaland is seen as an indication of the Statehood movement influencing the mandate. The new NDPP-BJP government, to be headed by Rio, and the Modi government will be under pressure to start the process of finding a solution to the problem without further delay to prevent it from snowballing ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha election.
- The ruling NDPP-BJP alliance swept the Assembly election in Nagaland winning 37 seats of the 60 seats.
- The NDPP’s spectacular showing paved the way for Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio’s fifth term, a record.
- Two women candidates, Hekani Jakhalu and Salhoutuonuo Kruse, both fielded by the NDPP, made history by becoming the first ever elected women representatives in the State Assembly.
- While the Congress drew a blank for the second time, the NPF managed to win only two seats against the 26 it won last time.