Elections have a tendency to throw up news — often unusual ones — and also newsmakers. This time in Nagaland, where voting will take place on February 27, it is the little known Assembly segment Pughoboto that has made news.
Pughoboto falls in Zunheboto district in the hub of the Sema tribe. The community forms numerical strength in the central regionof the state and Semas as voters can easily influence election results in three-four Assembly constituencies in the Dimapur region, besides seven segments in Zunheboto.
In the run up to the upcoming Assembly polls, reportedly Pughoboto figured prominently at the seat-share talks held in New Delhi on Thursday between key BJP and NDPP leaders, including Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio.
In 2018, under the seat-share agreement, Pughoboto was contested by the BJP.
Dr A. Sukhato Sema had contested the seat and Y. Vikheho Swu of the NPF had won by a narrow margin of 70 votes only.
Sukhato is again aspiring for the saffron party ticket and has been working in the constituency.
Swu shifted to the Rio-led NDPP and now the Chief Minister is under obligation to field him from the seat.
There is yet another twist in the tale as Swu is a close relative of a prominent NSCN-IM leader.
As it is, the Assembly elections are being held under controversial circumstances and threats of boycott calls by some sections in Eastern Nagaland.
The influential Konyak Union from Mon district has threatened to “permanently expel” anyone who will file nominations for ensuing polls.
The eastern Nagas, under the aegis of Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation (ENPO), have demanded carving out a separate state for the region.
Earlier, the ENPO had also threatened to boycott the polls.
Eastern Nagaland has 20 seats in the total 60-member Assembly.
On Thursday, BJP leaders met Chief Minister Rio and some of his colleagues for finalisation of the seat-share talks in Delhi.
Reportedly, differences surfaced on seat allocation of Pughoboto.
Nagaland Deputy Chief Minister and BJP floor leader in the Assembly, Y. Patton insisted on increasing the seat shares to 25. His and other BJP leaders’ argument being, in 2018 also the saffron party had settled for 20 seats and hence it should be increased.
In the 2018 polls, the BJP’s strike rate was much better than NDPP’s. Out of the 40 seats the NDPP had contested; the Rio-led outfit could win only 18, while BJP won 12 seats from the 20 seats it contested.
Seats like Pughoboto and Atoizu (former Chief Minister K.L. Chishi) were lost by the BJP by narrow margins and certain allegations had surfaced in the past as well.
The NDPP delegation rejected the demand for increasing the quota and reportedly sought for change of seats including Pughoboto and in that context Rio’s lieutenant and NDPP secretary general Abu Metha allegedly made some remarks on ‘threats’.
Many in Nagaland BJP and analysts are surprised at the central BJP’s electoral strategies vis-a-vis Nagaland and Meghalaya.
In Meghalaya, the BJP has dumped its ally, the Conrad Sangma-led NPP, and will go alone. The saffron party may contest at least 56 seats on its own.
In 2018, the BJP had won only two seats in Meghalaya.
But in Nagaland, to the surprise of many, the BJP has settled for 20 seats whereas there were strong demands for at least making the partnership equal.
One prominent BJP leader says the argument that the party is readily playing second fiddle to the NDPP in Nagaland because of the Christian-Hindutva factor is not convincing as Meghalaya too is a predominantly Christian state.
It is also whispered that Rio has made use of his personal friendship with a prominent northeastern leader to get things in his favour.
Patton said in Delhi on Thursday that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity is the BJP’s trump card in the Nagaland polls.
As the episode of reported fracas and controversial remarks on a militant body during the Thursday meeting surfaced on social media and in a YouTube video, Rio and his NDPP vice president R. Longkumer issued a strong denial on Friday.
They said the report in the video has “falsely claimed” that “NDPP secretary general Abu Metha said in the meeting that he was getting life threats” vis–a-vis Pughoboto seat to be allotted to the NDPP and not BJP.
“This is to clarify that such a statement was never made by the secretary general nor discussed in the meeting,” the NDPP leaders said.
Come what may, it is the real election season in Nagaland and a lot of excitement is on cards.
In 1998, the NSCN-IM was in favour of boycotting the polls, this time their stance is not yet clear. On the other hand, the umbrella group, NNPG is against holding of elections and has said that the centre should immediately honour the Agreed Position signed in 2017 between NNPG and the centre when R.N. Ravi was Nagaland Governor and negotiator at the peace talks.
On January 14, the NSCN-IM and the NNPG issued a joint statement pledging to work together for a solution with the Centre.
The statement declared their “unconditional commitment to collaborate on the basis of our respective agreements (Framework Agreement of 2015 and the Agreed Position of 2017) for the resolution of the Naga historical and political rights with government of India”.
However on Wednesday, shortly after election schedules were announced, the NSCN-IM issued a statement, saying: “The Nagas do not acknowledge any agreements signed under the Indian Constitution..
This essentially negates the NNPG-NSCN(IM) joint statement.
(Nirendra Dev is a New Delhi-based journalist. He is also author of books, ‘The Talking Guns: North East India’
and ‘Modi to Moditva: An Uncensored Truth’. Views are personal)