Khekiho Zhimomi’s death a setback to Naga peace process (Obituary)

It can be said with a fair amount of certainty that with the death on Thursday of Khekiho Zhimomi, the lone Rajya Sabha member from Nagaland, the central government’s peace initiative in the insurgency affected state may suffer a serious setback.

In spite of the many controversies that dogged his political career since he began it as a leader and founder member of the Nagaland Students’ Federation, Zhimomi was able to make his presence felt in the corridors of power in New Delhi, which is considered by many northeastern citizens as an “alien land”.

Zhimomi’s absence in Nagaland politics will be felt primarily on two fronts: the Naga People’s Front (NPF) led Democratic Alliance of Nagaland(DAN) and the central governments stalled initiative of concluding a peace agreement with the insurgents.

Although he always remained a part and parcel of democratic parliamentary politics, there always remained a murmur about his subterranean connections with the insurgent outfits, particularly the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Issac-Muivah) faction. His detractors never failed to point out that his over identification with the NDA government at New Delhi might have been instrumental behind its somewhat hasty conclusion about the NSCN(I-M)’s indispensability in Nagaland affairs.

But the man’s greatest quality was his zeal and endeavour. An alumnus of St. Joseph’s college Darjeeling, Zhimomi was a successful industrialist and left his mark in many areas like packaged drinking water, construction, timber, food processing units and the like. This is a rare quality in a state which has still not been able to come fully out of primitive agricultural practices.

He remained a member of the state legislative assembly on quite a few occasions and became a minister too. He had six daughters, two sons and eight grand children, a large family on the whole. But the family too has left its mark in Nagaland’s socio-political life. Zhimomi’s eldest daughter is married to Nephui Rio, a former chief minister of the state and now the lone Lok Sabha member from Nagaland.

But the otherwise gifted man might have done better had he maintained a balanced connection with all the insurgent groups, a reality in today’s Nagaland which nobody can deny. It is entirely a different matter that the NSCN (Khaplang) faction had once accused Zhimomi of collecting illegal “taxes” in its name. However, it always remained in the realm of accusation and the Khaplang faction never came out with any proof. However, it cannot be denied that the relations between the two did always remain soured and this has certainly told upon any inclusive peace process.

Among the politicians of Nagaland, Zhimomi will always be remembered as a “soft” one. He recently travelled to Myanmar with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval for assisting in the peace process there knowing fully well that the venture might make him somewhat unpopular in his home state. Although his role in Nagaland’s democratic politics may not always be called constructive, yet it cannot be denied that he was one of the strong pillars that parliamentary democracy could put up in a hostile atmosphere.

(Amitava Mukherjee is a senior journalist and commentator. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at amukherjee57@yahoo.com)

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