Naga issue dominates electioneering

PTI | ByPress Trust of India, Kohima
May 02, 2004 09:55 PM IST

Parties are trying their best to capitalise on the vexed Naga political problem during the month-long campaign for the May 5 LS poll.

Both ruling Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) and opposition Congress, locked in keen contest for the lone Parliamentary seat, have tried their level best to capitalise on the vexed Naga political problem during the month-long campaign for the May 5 Lok Sabha poll.

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The election machineries as well as political parties are expecting a peaceful polling for the first time in the recent years as underground militant organisations resolved neither to boycott nor indulge in the election process in the state.

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Unlike in the past, no reports of any intimidations or disruption by underground activists during the campaigns by contending political parties have been received from any place, emboldening the candidates and their supporters to visit village after village during the month.

While the ruling alliance, in which BJP is a key constituent, harped on the peace process initiated by the NDA Government at the Centre to hammer out a tangible settlement to the vexed political problem, the opposition Congress, which has been trying hard to retain the seat, asserted that the process was initiated by the previous Congress Government at the Centre.

The Congress also insisted that inclusion of all sections of Naga society, instead of involving only one underground group, is imperative for finding a permanent solution to the decades-long problem.

The ruling alliance also tried to woo the voters capitalising on the Prime Minister's special economic package worth Rs 1,050 crore announced in October last year and explaining the reason why the Congress was ousted from power by the people in the last Assembly election.

Like every election, whether Parliamentary or Assembly, the controversial 16 point agreement, which culminated with the formation of Nagaland in the sixties, came to the fore with contending parties offering divergent interpretation on the pact signed between Naga People's Convention and the Government of India in 1960.

The Congress asserted that any future settlement must be based on this piece of legislation enshrined in the Article 371(a) of the Constitution, the DAN leaders asked Congress leaders to disown its controversial publication "bedrock of Naga society," saying that the booklet completely "distorred" the Naga history and political aspiration.

DAN, comprising Nagaland People's Front (NPF), JD(U) and BJP fielded Wangyuh Konyak of NPF as consensus candidate against the Congress MP of dissolved Lok Sabha K Asungba Sangtam, who is seeking re-election for the third time.

Unlike in other parts of the country no political stalwarts from outside the state hit the campaign trail in Nagaland as contending parties decided to rake up the job at grass-root level because convincing the village chiefs is key to success in elections in this hill state.

Chief Minister and DAN election panel Chairman Neiphiu Rio remained the star campaigner for the alliance and attended maximum number of election meetings in the Congress strong districts while the Congress was led by its state President and former chief minister S C Jamir in the campaign trail.

Although there are five candidates, including the richest contender in the country, the battle for the ballot will be mainly confined to DAN and Congress, and over 10 lakh voters will decide the fate of the fortune seekers at the hustings.

All arrangements have been completed for smooth conduct of poll in the state spread over hills and valleys and a few choppers kept ready to carry polling personnel, security men and electronic voting machines (EVM) if necessary.

Additional 45 companies of paramilitary forces have started arriving in the state to assist the state police forces. Assam Rifles have been entrusted with the task of providing environmental security to instill confidence among the voters.

Chairman of cease-fire monitoring group (CFMG) Let Gen (rtd) R V Kulkarni and security forces have asked the underground groups to strictly adhere to the agreed ground rules of the truce and confine themselves inside the designated camps during the electioneering.

Despite the militants' call asking the people to boycott the "Indian election" in Nagaland, all the past polls have witnessed a record turnout of voters since the formation of the state. Hence, the Election Commission as well as political parties expect a good turnout on May 5.

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