The Double Standard
Calling it as an act of imposition by the Indian State, NSCN (IM) boycotted the 12th Lok Sabha Election in Manipur in 1997. On February 10, 1998, the outfit expressed appreciation and gratitude to its frontal organizations consisting of the Naga Hoho, United Naga Council (UNC), Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights, Naga Students’ Federation, Naga Mother Associations, Naga Village Chiefs’ Federation, Concerned Citizens Forum, Naga GB Federations and Church leaders, etc. for endorsing their wish and in asserting the national rights of the Naga people by keeping away from the elections. Subsequently, as a follow up to their line of thinking (i.e. calling the Indian elections as impositions), the 7th Manipur Assembly Election in 2000 and the 13th Lok Sabha Election in 2002 held in the state of Manipur were also boycotted. However, the clarion call given by NSCN-IM in terms of boycotting the elections in the name of Naga interests and national rights of the Nagas went to deaf ears to many “other” Nagas, as many Nagas jumped into the election fray, and in fact rightfully became representatives of the Nagas in the Manipur State Assembly. This is particularly true especially in the case of the Tangkhuls, the kindred tribe of Thuingaleng Muivah, who had been actively engaged in the electoral politics of Manipur.
Although NSCM (IM) had given the call to boycott the “imposed” elections by the Indian State in the state of Manipur, it started taking a keen interest beginning with the 8th Manipur Assembly elections. For the first time, the outfit dictated the terms of elections by giving decrees related to the choice of candidates, pattern of voting and others pertaining to the Nagas. A heightened and reckless interference was observed during the 14th Lok Sabha election. Once the “choice” candidates won the elections, the outfit used them (MPs, MLAs) to pursue their goal of Greater Nagaland. Today, one has witnessed the climax of direct interference by NSCN (IM), which even the Home Minister has acknowledged, resulting in re-poll of the 10th Manipur State Assembly elections in many of the Naga dominated areas (polling stations), such as Chandel, Ukhrul, Tamenglong and Senapati districts of Manipur. In addition to unleashing UNC like a wild buffalo to win support for the Naga People’s Front, the outfit used violent means to terrorize and win support. Three poll personnel, one CRPF personnel and two civilians were killed by NSCN (IM) cadres. News of abduction and torture by the outfit continue to pour in.
A note of double standard on the part of NSCN (IM) is easily discernable as far as the issue of election is concerned in Manipur; on one hand, the outfit proclaims the elections as impositions by the Indian State and thus the clarion call to boycott, and on the other hand, it picks their “choice” candidates to serve their own interests. It will not be wrong to state that the politics of boycott undertaken by NSCN (IM) is just a masquerade to fool the Nagas.
Electoral Politics as the Ends in Itself
One pertinent question that needs addressing is, why NSCN (IM), the oldest insurgent outfit in the Northeast region, is jumping into the election fray even in an indirect manner? The answer lies in the nature of the peace process between NSCN (IM) and Indian State. Although details of peace process is a tightly guarded secret but tell-tale signs of the peace process leading nowhere is visible. Neither the issue of Greater Nagaland nor sovereignty finds any significant place in the whole scope of the peace process. Instead, a muddled concept like Suprastate is suggested to solve the vexed Naga problem. That the Naga movement under the leadership of NSCN (IM) has reached a dead end was honestly aired by SC Jamir (Seven Sisters’ Post) and clearly exemplified in the manner in which the entourage of Th. Muivah and Isaac Swu was stopped by the Assam Rifles at Bade village on January 15, 2012 on their way to Zunheboto. The incident struck a stark similarity with the Mao incident in Manipur where Muivah was prohibited to visit his native village at Ukhrul, except it did not create a political fiasco other than old Muivah rendering a hurt press release!
The manner in which NSCN (IM) is slowly co-opted by the Indian State within its fold is not a new one. Scholars such as Gunnar Myrdal and Selig Harringson stand to bite dust, the former for calling India as a “soft state” in terms of its inability to bring about a decent growth rate other than the “Hindu growth rate” and the latter for predicting that democracy stands to fail in India and after that, after two decades or so from independence a military or dictatorship will rule over India. India has proved to be strong state. Take for instance, it can not only deploy its defence personnel wherever it likes but can also control it; plus have a glimpse at its defence spending. Using the same and grandly equipped with the electoral device, centrifugal forces such as the Akali Dal of Punjab, Dravida Kazakam of Tamil Nadu, Mizo National Front, Gorkha National Liberation Front and others were not only co-opted but also drawn into electoral parties. Parties in Jharkhand and Telegana, who earlier voiced separation from India are new victims of co-optation. For each co-opted organizations including NSCN (IM), the obvious alternative is making elections as ends in themselves to exploit own interests.
It is an undeniable fact that in such a situation the Manipuri Nagas (active NSCN-IM cadres and well-wishers) are in a dilemma. To make the situation more complex, they do not want themselves to be called as Nagas of Manipur. However, the contradiction is, the Nagas of Nagaland address them as Manipuris and never welcomed them as pure Nagas. Coming out of such a dilemma in an honourable way (voluntary or forced exit from Nagaland) demands creating a political space for themselves in Manipur, especially so for the new political class of leaders (NSCN-IM). The first task then is ending the political career of Naga leaders who have been engaged in the electoral politics of the state “traditionally”. Here we use the word “traditionally” to denote engagement with the Manipur politics before the inception of Naga People’s Front, and those Nagas who are not related with this party in any manner. So, through the vehicle of NPF and fully backed by NSCN (IM), they are engaged in the politics of Manipur to create a space for themselves in two ways as stated above; end the political career of traditional Naga politicians as well as fill up the political space as reservoirs. As SC Jamir has observed, on account of lack of honesty on the part of NSCN-IM leadership, the issue of greater Nagaland is used to exploit the sentiment of the Nagas of Manipur as well as to conceal their true colour. That joining electoral politics is a compulsion is left for people to guess without revealing the real situation for fear of reprisal.
Thus, as a first initiative to create a political space for them, the 9th State Assembly Election was an opportunistic moment for these Nagas of Manipur. UNC, a mouth piece of NSCN (IM), nominated candidates in all the Naga inhabited districts of Manipur with the sole aim of Naga Unification. A resolution was taken on August 3, 2006 wherein all prospective Naga candidates promised not to be associated with any national political parties. 60 candidates signed the declaration. A common platform known as as United Naga Democratic Front was formed to contest in the election and 11 candidates was nominated. In order to facilitate their candidates, the UNC served an ultimatum on January 24, 2007 to withdraw the candidature of those who had not been nominated by the UNC. But, the declaration of UNC turn out to be insignificant as out of 11 Naga candidates nominated, only six managed to win. Similarly, in the Lok Sabha Election of 2009 the UNC sponsored candidate was defeated. This clearly indicates that the UNC playing the emotional card to create a space is no longer valid.
As a second initiative, UNC came up with the idea of “Alternative Arrangement” which was resolved in the Naga People’s Declaration held at Senapati on July 1, 2010. In the same declaration, a decision was taken to “severe ties with the Government of Manipur”. The Declaration further explained that the “Alternative Arrangement” was sought to fill the vacuum/gap created in recent times, without substantiating what exactly was the vacuum/gap. The Declaration was observed as a “Naga People’s Mandate” but the Nagas of Manipur have now realised that the UNC do not carry the voice of the Naga people as they have failed on two occasions (see Yenning, “Alternative Arrangement and Nagas of Manipur”, The Sangai Express, December 12, 2011).
The latest attempt in the election fray by NSCN-IM and its frontal organizations is the 10th Manipur State Assembly elections. Realising their position, they lessened the activities on “Alternative Arrangement” and involved themselves “full swing” in the elections by supporting NPF. And we are familiar with how the story unfolded or rather ended by having a re-poll today.
This article was published in The Sangai Express on Sunday, February 5, 2012