Few candidates in poll-bound Manipur are as qualified as Sword Vashum, who retired as the additional deputy comptroller and accountant general in 2009. But the state unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) believes he could slash the party’s hopes of ending 15 years of Congress rule.
The reason -- Vashum is the elder brother of VS Atem, the former ‘army chief’ of the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) who is now the outfit’s advisor.
Vashum’s candidature has also reportedly not gone down well with the NSCN-IM since its ‘aza’ (diktat) bars any member or his/her relative from contesting ‘Indian elections’.
The NSCN-IM is seen as the force behind periodic economic blockades in Manipur. Popular sentiment against the outfit, whose goal of a unified Naga homeland is seen as a threat to Manipur’s territorial integrity, is also strong among non-Nagas in the state.
This sentiment invariably comes into play in 50 of the maximum 60 assembly seats where non-Nagas are in majority.
“We do not know how our central leadership selected Vashum as a candidate, but his blood ties with NSCN-IN could harm our chances of defeating the corrupt Congress,” a BJP candidate from the blockade-stung Imphal Valley said.
The central leadership, he said, should have consulted state leaders before finalising candidates in the Naga areas.
“A candidate’s past matters, and Vashum had been vocal about creation of a separate homeland for Nagas when he was with the Naga People’s Front,” he added.
Vashum quit as the working president of the NPF and joined the BJP in 2015 though the two parties are allies in adjoining Nagaland where the NPF rules. The NPF is allegedly a sympathiser of the NSCN-IM, which has been on ceasefire mode since July 1997.
Chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh recently said, “BJP, NPF, NSCN-IM are a piece of cloth woven from the same thread.”
Vashum, 68, said his adversaries were spreading rumours that NSCN-IM cadres have forced him to remain indoors as a punishment for contesting the elections.
“There are many instances of ideological differences between members of the same family. Manipur and Nagaland have had MLAs whose kin are members of underground groups,” Vashum told HT from Ukhrul district.
“I have been campaigning without any hindrance and there is an outpouring of support for the BJP in the hills. This has given us the confidence of doing well in the elections,” he said.
But the BJP in the non-tribal dominated Imphal Valley comprising 40 assembly seats that usually decides the poll outcome in Manipur, is finding it tough to explain the “indirect” NSCN-IM link through Vashum.