The Nagaland state assembly elections are being held today and the results will be announced on March 3 after the counting process takes place.
However, due to some of the happenings in the state last month, it did seem for a bit that elections in the state might have to wait.
On January 29, representatives of 11 political parties, including the governing Naga People’s Front and the Bharatiya Janata Party signed a bond declaring that they would not take part in the upcoming assembly elections. They were showing solidarity with some Naga tribal groups which had decided to boycott the elections. However, the central leadership of the BJP had suspended the representatives and had announced that they would take part in the elections.
Since independence itself, there have been tensions between many people belonging to the Naga community and the Indian state. The first general elections were boycotted by the Naga National Council which wanted to establish an independent nation for the Nagas. Presently, there are demands from some quarters for a ‘Greater Nagalim’ state for the contiguous Naga-inhabited areas.
To understand this particular boycott one needs to at least go back to the ‘Framework Agreement’ which had been signed between the Government of India and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah faction) in August 2015, the contents of which have interestingly still not been disclosed.
According to a report in The Hindu, a letter was written to the various Naga groups by RN Ravi, the Centre’s interlocutor for the peace talks in Nagaland. The groups were assured that the new assembly which would be formed after the elections would not hamper the agreement in any way. The call for a boycott was eventually withdrawn.
The church has a strong role to play in the culture of the state and with the rise of the BJP in the state, there have been apprehensions related to Hindutva politics. Earlier this month, an open letter had been written to the presidents of all political parties by the Nagaland Baptist Church Council. The letter read, “We cannot deny that the Hindutva movement in the country has become unprecedentedly strong and invasive in the last few years with BJP, the political wing of RSS, in power… God must be weeping when Naga politicians are running after those who seek to destroy Christianity in India and in our land.”
This is another major issue which is in the mind of the youth of the state. As of October 2016, 70,000 educated youths were registered as unemployed.
The political party which is currently in power in the state is the Naga People’s Front and the chief minister of the state is TR Zeliang. Even though the state assembly has 60 seats, 25 of them are vacant currently. There are 30 NPF MLAs, 4 legislators from the BJP and one independent MLA.
There have been more than 20 resignations from the Nagaland assembly in only two months.
1) Two MLAs from the NPF and one independent MLA resigned and it brought down the strength of the assembly in January.
2) Again, on January 30, ten MLAs of the governing Naga People’s Front gave in their resignations as members of the assembly.
Former Parliamentary Affairs Minister Tokheho Yepthomi, who was amongst the 10 people who quit the party as well as the assembly, told IANS, “We have resigned as members of the Assembly as well as from the primary membership of the NPF in response to the public call for ‘Solution before Election’ to pave the way for an early solution to the protracted Naga political (insurgency) problem.”
3) Finally, two more NPF MLAs resigned along with six other independent MLAs. It eventually brought down the strength of the house to 35.
The Naga People’s Front has been governing the state for the past 15 years. In 2013, it had won 38 seats. Eventually, over the course of the five years, they would go on to have even more than 40 seats due to party defections. They had been in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party for the last 15 years before it ended in the month of January as seat-sharing talks failed.
Only 18 of the 38 MLAs elected from the NPF in 2013 will be contesting elections this time around.
Earlier this month, the Bharatiya Janata Party finalised its seat-sharing deal with the newly formed Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP), led by veteran politician Neiphiu Rio, who had become chief minister after the NPF won the elections in 2013. He had quit the NPF in January to join the NDPP. The BJP will be contesting in 20 seats and the NDPP in 40 seats. Neiphiu Rio has already won his seat since the only other candidate from the NPF withdrew his nomination from the constituency.
According to reports, there are talks between the Indian National Congress and the NPF for a post-poll alliance in order to keep NDPP-BJP alliance out of power in the state. Twenty-three candidates for the Nagaland elections had been nominated by the Indian National Congress but five of them withdrew it. So, only 18 are contesting the elections. The incumbent NPF is contesting in 58 of the seats.
The women representation in Nagaland till date has literally been nothing. The five women standing for the Nagaland elections this year have actually ended up making history since they are 2.56% of the total candidates taking part in the elections. This has been the largest representation of women candidates standing in the Nagaland Assembly elections. Ever since Nagaland came into existence in 1963, only 19 women have stood for the elections.