VETERAN CONGRESS leader from Nagaland, Senayangba Chubatoshi Jamir, 81, is not contesting the Nagaland Assembly election to be held on 23 February. The first Lok Sabha member from Nagaland and Congress’ longest serving chief minister in the state has been kept out of the fray, according to party sources, “to allow him to play a more effective role” during the poll campaign. The Congress is trying to snatch power from the Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) government by accusing it of “deep-rooted corruption”. DAN is an alliance of the Naga Peoples’ Front (NPF) with the BJP and a few smaller political outfits in Nagaland.
Jamir, a Congress Working committee (CWC) member and four-time chief minister between 1980 to 2003, headed the party in Nagaland for 11 years. He is among the few leaders in the state who have been in politics since the days of Jawaharlal Nehru. Once a member of the Progressive United Democratic Front (PUDF), Jamir engineered the merger of the PUDF with the Congress in 1989.
In fact, right from 1961 when Jamir was first elected to the Lok Sabha, he has been close to the Nehru-Gandhi family. He started his political stint in New Delhi as a parliamentary secretary to Nehru, and has remained the face of nationalist politics in Nagaland ever since.
Nagaland today is expecting a solution to the 15-year-long peace talks between the Centre and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim’s Issac-Muivah faction (NSCN-IM). In 1963, New Delhi had signed an agreement with the Naga People’s Convention (NPC), leading to the creation of Nagaland. Jamir was one of the signatories of the agreement — the reason why he is widely regarded as the architect of modern Nagaland as a state of India.
The Congress stalwart’s critical stand on Naga sovereignty in his booklet Bedrock of Naga Society, made NSCN cadres, and even some from his own party, accuse him of trying to derail the peace process. “The Nagas were never an independent nation,” he wrote in the booklet. “A political entity or a nation has to be based on historical facts. It pre-supposes the existence of a definite political structure that governs a clearly demarcated area of land. It also demands that the political structure would be a monarchy, a democracy, an autocracy, an oligarchy, a dictatorship, or any other structure that is universally accepted by political scientists. But the Nagas lack these criteria.”
In 2003, Neiphiu Rio, 63, of the NPF replaced Jamir as the chief minister of Nagaland. Rio had earlier served as home minister under Jamir. From 2004 to 2010, Jamir served as the governor of Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat.
“While Jamir was away from Nagaland, the Congress became weaker in the state. The state Congress committee desperately wanted him back to set the house in order,” says Dilip Sharma, a political observer in Dimapur. However, in May 2011, to the surprise of political pundits, Jamir lost the bypoll for Mokokchung district’s Aonglenden Assembly constituency to NPF’s Toshipokba Longkumer by a margin of 1,325 votes.
At that time, the NSCN-IM had reportedly run a virulent campaign against Jamir to keep him out of Nagaland politics.
Given the Aonglenden defeat and the opposition of the NSCN-IM, it is reasonable to suspect that the move to keep Jamir out of the poll fray is more than merely “tactical”. “Strong opposition by the NSCN-IM leadership is believed to have acted against him. With the peace talks in an advanced and crucial phase, the Congress does not want to upset the militant outfit,” says a senior Congress leader on condition of anonymity.
However, that is not the official stand of the party. Imtisungit Jamir, president of the Nagaland Pradesh Congress Committee and Jamir’s younger brother, told TEHELKA, “Jamir is the biggest name in Nagaland politics and he will remain so whether he contests or not.
The party high command wants him to focus on campaigning across the state, since he is someone the voters look up to.” If the party wins the election, Jamir will be an “obvious choice” for the chief minister’s post, and he could then contest a bypoll for an Assembly seat later.
IN 2012, all 60 MLAs of Nagaland had offered to resign and make way for an “interim government” comprising various underground groups. To expedite the Naga peace process and push for a solution before polls are held in Nagaland, they had formed a Joint Legislative Forum (JLF). Members of the JLF made several trips to New Delhi and met top leaders of the Congress and the BJP, including the prime minister and the home minister.
However, there is little hope of a solution before 23 February. The ruling NPF and the state Congress are busy blaming each other for the JLF’s failure. A “time-bound political solution for the Naga political problem” remains top priority in the manifestos of both the major contenders.
“The best time for a solution would have been before the poll was announced,” says a senior political leader from Nagaland. “With the state government’s term coming to an end, all the parties would be willing to give way to an interim government. But once they start spending money on the poll campaign, everyone would be wary of pulling back.”
It seems the Congress has already joined the bandwagon of political forces that seek to reap benefits from peace talks with the NSCN-IM.
(with inputs from Sandeep Banerjee in Dimapur)