Nagaland to vote amid unresolved Naga issue (Curtain Raiser)

Last Updated: Thu, Feb 21, 2013 12:20 hrs

Kohima, Feb 21 (IANS) It is six decades old. But the unresolved Naga issue is a major factor in Saturday's elections in the once insurgency-hit Nagaland.

Peace and progress are the other issues dominating Nagaland, which the Naga People's Front (NPF) led by Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio has ruled for the past one decade.

In all 188 candidates, including only two women, are in the fray to get elected to 60-member assembly. Fortynine of the 60 outgoing legislators are seeking re-election.

The ruling NPF has fielded candidates in all 60 seats while the main opposition Congress has put up 57, leaving three seats to others.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, which won two seats in 2008, has put up 11 candidates. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which has two members in the outgoing assembly, has 15 contenders.

In 2008, the NPF and the Congress secured 26 and 23 seats respectively. The NPF formed the government with the support of seven independents.

According to Chief Electoral Officer J. Alam, 1.1 million people, including 589,505 women, are eligible to vote in 2,023 polling stations.

Of these, 662 stations have been categorised as "hyper-sensitive", official jargon to mean they are prone to violence.

One third of the 60 constituencies will witness straight fights between the ruling NPF and Congress.

Besides 62-years-old Neiphiu Rio, chief minister since March 2003, other prominent candidates are Congress leader Tokheho Yeputhomi, Nagaland Congress chief S.I. Jamir, NCP president Neiba Ndangfrom and Speaker of the outgoing assembly, Kiyanilie Peseyie.

Chief Minister and NPF supremo Rio has repeatedly referred to the Naga issue.

"The NPF, from the beginning, has promised to find a durable and honourable settlement to the Naga issue. We will achieve this through the non-violence," he said.

The Congress too wants a lasting solution to the Naga issue.

Former chief minister K.L. Chishi said: "A settlement of the Naga problem is everyone's worry, specially the youth. As long as the issue remains unsolved, there will be no sense of security."

Former Nagaland chief minister S.C. Jamir, a well-informed politician of the northeast, said: "As demanded by the NSCN (I-M) and others, integration of Naga areas of the northeast region is not possible now."

The National Socialist Council of Nagaland has been demanding a Greater Nagaland by merging all Naga areas of neighbouring states with Nagaland.

"In a democratic country like India, one must try to win the goodwill of the people of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh," Jamir said.

"But they (NSCN) went with armed cadres, set up camps, threatened these states and frightened them. So Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh said we will not give away an inch of land."

The NSCN-IM, one of the oldest and most powerful of about 30 militant outfits in India's northeast, earlier fought for an independent homeland for the Nagas.

The NSCN-IM, which has held talks with the central government, entered into a ceasefire with New Delhi in August 1997.

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