Six years after he left professional football, Somatai Shaiza has taken to the field again, wearing a Trinamool Congress jersey. But he has to get past a volley of defenders including his 'saffron' cousin to score his maiden poll goal.
The Ukhrul constituency is a tough turf, central to Naga sentiments associated with an integrated homeland because Somdal, the native village of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah, falls within the constituency.
Despite the NSCN's ceasefire with New Delhi in July 1997, political complications have kept Muivah away from Somdal for more than 40 years. But his influence has loomed large over the Tangkhul-dominated Ukhrul seat.
According to Trinamool state unit president Kim Gangte, a lot of thought went into fielding Somatai, 38. "We wanted an acceptable candidate in a constituency where the Shaizas have been popular," she said.
Somatai is a nephew of former Manipur CM Yangmasho Shaiza, who was murdered by the NSCN.
"I quit football in 2006, and was a dependable midfielder for teams such as Churchill
Brothers, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. I hope to give the right passes so that my constituency is the ultimate victor," he told HT.
Somatai's main rival is his cousin Danny Shaiza, who is eyeing his fourth straight term. He won in 2007 as an independent but joined the Congress last year. He shifted to the BJP after the Congress denied him a ticket.
"The saffron tag does not take away from the fact that I can deliver," the three-time MLA said.