Ten years after it made way for a regional identity, the Congress is eyeing a comeback in Nagaland. It hopes to cash in on ‘rampant corruption’ and fatigue induced by a long-drawn peace process between New Delhi and Naga rebels.
The Congress had enjoyed virtual monopoly in Nagaland until 2003. Much of its dominance was attributed to the iconic SC Jamir - he was chief minister for several short stints before two straight terms from 1993-2003 - and his stand against the rebels, particularly the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah).
A peace pact between New Delhi and NSCN (I-M) in July 1997 and infighting within the Congress later impacted the political scenario.
As Nagaland got used to peace, Jamir’s rivals closed ranks to expose a government that could no longer use militancy as an excuse for lack of development.
The current incumbent government, the Naga People’s Front (NPF), was a non-entity by another name before several Congress leaders who fell out with Jamir joined it. Prime among them was Jamir’s protégé Neiphiu Rio.
The BJP, heading the NDA government at the Centre in 2003, saw in Rio an opportunity to enter Christian Nagaland and stitched up the Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) government.
The Congress had in 2003 won 21 seats compared to the NPF’s 19 and the BJP’s seven. Other NDA constituents helped form DAN that provided an unstable government until its dissolution prior to the 2008 polls.
The dissolution worked in favour of the NPF as it bagged 26 seats in the 60-member assembly. The Congress won 23 but lost five of them to the NPF over the years. Other parties merged with the NPF to raise its strength to 35.
“The people have seen through the NPF’s games and are disillusioned by rampant corruption and misrule,” Congress legislature party leader Tokheho Yepthomi said.
He slammed the NPF government as a ‘one-man (Rio) show fooling the Naga people with rhetoric on the Naga political issue (solution to peace talks with rebels)’, and urged the people to be part of the change the Congress can offer.
But Rio blamed the lack of progress in the talks on the UPA’s lethargy, adding that the pace of development in Nagaland was commensurate with the fiscal help from New Delhi.
That the fate of the Naga peace process was a major poll plank was underscored by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. Campaigning in Dimapur earlier this month, she said a Congress government in Nagaland could help speed up the peace process.