By Tirthankar Mitra
Even as Nagaland goes to the state assembly election on February 27, with an eye on the polls, BJP has unfolded its game plan to pre-empt trouble in its sensitive area- eastern Nagaland. Party president, JP Nadda made some promises for its development while releasing the election manifesto. The reason of giving priority to this region is not far to seek. And it is lack of development which is the reason of ear marking it.
Even as one stops short of criticising the BJP which has been in power at the Centre since 2014, a deeper dive into the law and order situation of Nagaland will provide a clue to this belated waking up. Nearly, 40 per cent of the polling booths of the state are “critical”.
As for the genesis of this “generosity” it can be traced back to a resolution passed in August,2022 for abstaining from 2023 Assembly elections. Since it was the influential Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation which had passed it, the saffron camp was loath to bin it.
For the call of staying away from the polls was given to buttress the demand for a separate state namely Frontier Nagaland which would include six districts of eastern Nagaland. The apex bodies of all the different Eastern Naga tribes resolved to abstain in support of the ENPO resolution.
Seeing a hammer about to be thrown in the works of the functioning of democratic process and a threat to its concept of Akhand Bharat (United India), the Union government administration went into an overdrive. For these resolutions, in many cases, include not allowing election campaign in their territory and making participation in the poll process by filing nomination by community members almost an impossibility.
And the last thing the powers that be seeks to do is to conduct an election overseen by the army. A meeting was held between senior home ministry officials and a ENPO delegation after wheels within wheels moved to avert a confrontation.
The boycott call was withdrawn on February 4But it was based on an assurance of a solution mutually agreed upon will be reached and will be implemented following the completion of the election process.
Six districts which have been demanded to be included in Eastern Nagaland are Kaphire, Longleng, Mon, Noklak, Tuensang and Shamator. Seven tribes including Konyak, Khiamniungan, Chang, Sangtam, Tikhir, Phom and Yimkhiung live here.
Incidentally, these tribes account for 30 per cent of Nagaland’s population. Out of 60 seats in the Assembly, 20 are from this area considerably adding to its political importance. The BJP poll manifesto promised setting up of an Eastern Nagaland Development Board with a special package for its development. Proportioning of budget provisions in keeping with the population of Nagaland was also promised by Nadda.
If one seeks to refresh one’s memory, the demand for Eastern Nagaland has been an longstanding one. The ENPO submitted a memorandum in the Prime Minister’s Office in November 2010 demanding a separate state with special status and provisions.
Development deficit was the rationale for the demand behind the separate state. This deficit is the principal demand among other causes for dissociation. The “lack of administration” is stated to be the cause of disparity in development. The area of the districts was outside the authority of the British administration.
The first Assembly elections were held in Nagaland in 1974. In 1957, it became a part of Naga Hills Tuensang Area. The developmental disparity of this area and the rest of the state was focused upon by Nagaland State Development Board. It was in 2016 and much water has flown under the bridge since then.
The report pointed out a contrast in development of the districts around Kohima and Dimapur with those of Kiphire, Longleng, Mon and Tuengsan. Tuengsan and Mon remain at the bottom of the indices of income and livelihood,
gender issues and poverty alleviation.
Since 2004, the picture has remained unchanged. Nagaland’s average literary rate is 80 per cent while it is 56.99 per cent in Mon. When the state of Nagaland was created in 1963, owing to its backwardness this region was placed under Governor’s Rule for 10 years. It remained under a regional council without a representation in the Assembly.
Mon and Tuensang have the lowest worker participation in Nagaland. In this rural area, agriculture remains at subsistence level even60 years after attaining statehood. It needs no far sight to see that the development process and democratic aspirations of the people of this region were dashed. The demand for a separate state or a special status germinated in the lack of development.
In Nagaland, BJP has an alliance with the main party NPP. In the February 27 polls, out of the 60 assembly seats in the state, the NPP is contesting in 40 seats while the BJP is fighting in the remaining 20 seats as per the pre-poll understanding. In 2018 assembly elections, NPP contested 58 seats and got 26 seats while the BJP got 12 seats by contesting 20 seats. Though the NPP, like other NE parties is a member of the BJP led NDA at the centre, both the BJP and the NPP are making all efforts to increase their respective strength in the coming assembly polls.
The recent moves by the centre in Nagaland are aimed at helping the BJP to get more seats in Eastern Nagaland by defeating the other two regional parties NDEP and NDPP. Congress has very little influence in the region though once Nagaland was its stronghold. In 2018 elections, the Congress contested 18 seats and got no seat. (IPA Service)