Nagaland Polls: A New Party, a New Opposition & a New Alliance

With a population of over 2.25 million, Nagaland politics is one of the country’s most dramatic – to say the least.

Updated
Explainers
6 min read
Incumbent Chief Minister of Nagaland TR Zeliang, Congress President Rahul Gandhi, and NDPP founder Neiphiu Rio.
i
Snapshot

On Monday, 12 February, things took a dramatic turn in Nagaland after three-time chief minister Neiphiu Rio was declared a winner from the Northern Angami-II constituency. The former leader of the ruling Naga People’s Front (NPF) won ahead of the state Assembly elections after his lone opponent, Chupfuo Angami, also from the NPF, withdrew his candidature.

Rio quit the NPF in January 2018, and allied with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with his newly formed party, the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP). The BJP, in turn, ended its 15-year alliance with the NPF last week.

This just goes on to show that elections in Nagaland are unlike any other in the country. Rio’s walkover victory gives the BJP a significant boost in the state.

Let’s take a deep-dive into the electoral and political scenario of one of the north-eastern border state.

Nagaland Polls: A New Party, a New Opposition & a New Alliance

  1. 1. How Is the Naga Crisis Affecting the State Elections?

    Until two weeks ago, the chances of the Nagaland elections being held as per schedule on 27 February looked bleak. A constitutional crisis was looming large, with the Naga civil society calling for a boycott over the demand of a separate ‘Nagalim’ state. Now, the Centre appears to have succeeded in pacifying the political parties and armed organisations – paving the way for the elections.

    The land of the Nagas was spread over India and Myanmar after India’s Independence, with much of the original Naga hills inculcated into Manipur, Assam and Arunachal. The Centre has been in talks for Greater Nagaland with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), the largest Naga rebel group, making the issue one of the biggest poll plank in the state for decades.

    In 2015, interlocutor RN Ravi signed a ‘framework agreement’ with the NSCN-IM on behalf of the Centre to end the decades-old insurgency. It was signed at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s residence.

    But, with no progress made, in January 2018, at least 11 political parties joined hands to boycott the elections until a final solution on the agreement was taken. However, according to a report by The Hindu, on 3 February, Ravi wrote a letter to the Naga groups, including the NSCN-IM, assuring the groups that the new Assembly would not come in the way of the final agreement. The letter reportedly helped end the impasse over the elections. Consequently, the BJP became the first party to defer the boycott agreement – and the rest followed suit.

    Expand
  2. 2. Who Are the Key Players?

    The battle for the 60 seats in the Nagaland Assembly will be fought between three key players.

    1. The Naga People’s Front (NPF)

    Since 2003, the NPF-led Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) has been in power, in coalition with the state BJP, Janata Dal United (JDU) and other smaller regional parties. Under Rio’s leadership, the NPF has remained the strongest contender for over a decade.

    2. The NDPP-BJP alliance

    In January 2018, Rio officially quit the NPF for the NDPP. Last week, the BJP walked out of the alliance with the NPF over a seat-sharing row, and joined hands with the NDPP.

    3. The Congress

    The Congress, mostly playing for the third position in the state, has weakened subsequently after losing power in the state in 2003 with most of its legislators moving to other parties with time, reported Hindustan Times.

    The JD(U), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are contesting the elections, too.

    Expand
  3. 3. Where Does the NPF Stand?

    The NPF now finds itself in a fix after its candidate Angami – Rio’s sole opponent – withdrew his nomination papers.

    Founded by Rio in 2002, the NPF has been one of the most popular party in Nagaland since it came to power in 2003. However, after a spate of resignations and reshuffles, the party now has 30 candidates left in the 60-seat assembly.

    Between 2003 and 2008, the NPF-led Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) won the elections for the third consecutive term in 2014 – and Rio returned as the CM for the third time.

    The NPF was at the height of its glory when the party found itself in a leadership crisis after Rio quit his position to become a Member of Parliament. TR Zeliang was subsequently appointed the chief minister.

    In 2015, Nagaland became an Opposition-less state after Zeliang expanded his ministry by inducting legislators from the Congress into the government, reported Times of India.

    The NPF now stands abandoned after the split of the DAN. With Rio’s walkover victory, the NPF’s troubles only seem to have increased.

    Expand
  4. 4. Will Rio Return as the CM for the Fourth Time?

    Often called the ‘tallest leader in Nagaland’, Rio, who is now the first winner of the elections after the lone NPF opponent withdrew his candidature, might return as the chief minister for the fourth time if the BJP-NDPP alliance wins.

    Rio, who founded NDPP in May 2017, eventually abandoned the NPF in January 2018 without specifying any reasons – either to party chief Shurhozelie Lieziestsu or the media, reported Business Standard.

    But the BJP entered a pre-poll alliance with the NDPP, with an eye on cashing-in on Rio’s popularity across the state.

    The NDPP has declared candidates for 40 seats, while the BJP will be contesting from 20 seats, making the NDPP-BJP alliance one of the key players in the state.

    Expand
  5. 5. Why Is Congress a Distant Third in the State?

    The Congress in the state has weakened over time since it lost power 15 years ago in in 2003, after ruling the state for a decade with SC Jamir being the last Congress CM. In the 2003 elections, the Congress won eight seats. However, over the last five years, all its candidates deserted the party and joined other political outfits for greener pastures, reported Hindustan Times.

    Before the filing of nominations on 31 January, the Congress was struggling to find candidates to contest the polls, a Congress source told Hindustan Times. The Congress reportedly held back-channel talks with the NPF for a pre-poll alliance but the ruling party decided to contest alone and declared candidates for all 60 seats.

    The struggling Congress eventually declared candidates for 20 seats, of which one candidate later withdrew his candidature. On 12 February, the Nagaland Pradesh Congress Committee (NPCC) announced that it would support secular candidates on the seats the party is not contesting from, in order to stop the BJP from “compromising the way of life of the people of Nagaland,” reported Hindustan Times.

    On 4 February, Rahul Gandhi lashed out at PM Modi on Twitter over the Naga Accord, saying that though it was signed in 2015, no progress has been made.

    Expand
  6. 6. What's on Nagaland Voters' Minds?

    Unemployment is a major issue in Nagaland, with over 70,000 unemployed youth in the state as of October 2016, as per a Financial Express report. The prolonged insurgency and political instability in the state have hampered investment and job opportunities in the state – making the youth dependent on government-created jobs.

    In terms of infrastructural development in rural and urban areas, the Rio government boasted of having completed several development projects in Kohima during its tenure(s). However, citizens say there is much to be desired in terms of infrastructural development, as Scroll reported. Jonas Yanthan, vice-chairman of the Kohima Lotha Hoho, a tribal body, and news reader at the All India Radio station in Kohima, told Scroll that even Kohima doesn’t get regular water supply. The article also quotes residents of Touphema, Rio’s native village, as saying that he could have done more for his village while being the chief minister.

    Expand
  7. 7. What Role Does the Church Play?

    Being a Christian-majority state, the Church has always played a significant role in influencing the Nagaland Assembly elections.

    The Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC), the state's biggest Christian organisation, launched a fresh campaign on 11 February asking believers to choose between the ‘Trishul’ and the ‘Cross’. The body said it feared voters would be seduced by money from forces that were “anti-Jesus Christ”, as reported by The Indian Express.

    In an open letter earlier this week, the Christian body, in an open letter, appealed to all political parties to refrain from supporting the BJP government, alleging that India had witnessed severe persecution of minorities under their rule. Rev Zelhou Keyho, NBCC general secretary, told The Asian Age:

    We cannot deny that the Hindutva movement in the country has become strong and invasive in an unprecedented manner over the last few years with the BJP, the political wing of the RSS, in power.
    Rev Keyho, NBCC general secretary, told The Asian Age

    The opposition comes in the backdrop of BJP’s newly formed alliance with the NDPP.

    Expand
  8. 8. Is the BJP On Firm Ground in Nagaland?

    In the 2013 Nagaland assembly elections, the BJP won one seat in the assembly election, with just 1.57 percent of the total vote share. Considering this, entering an alliance with the NDPP, that is not popular in the rural areas of the state, was a considered to be an audacious move – up until Rio’s win.

    The BJP has always been on the back-foot in the North eastern states, over issues like beef ban and atrocities against minorities. Moreover, this is the first time the church has openly come out with a warning against Hindutva invasion in the state, where religion has never been a poll plank before, reported The Indian Express.

    The BJP, that has made development a poll plank in every state would surely cash in the developmental work done under the leadership of Rio while being a part of DAN.

    The Naga Peace Talks will surely be used as a talking point in poll campaigning, even though a concrete solution is still being negotiated. However, rebel groups have criticised the Centre’s decision to negotiate only with the NSCN, claiming that the organisation does not represent the aspirations of all the Naga tribes.

    (The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

    Expand

How Is the Naga Crisis Affecting the State Elections?

Until two weeks ago, the chances of the Nagaland elections being held as per schedule on 27 February looked bleak. A constitutional crisis was looming large, with the Naga civil society calling for a boycott over the demand of a separate ‘Nagalim’ state. Now, the Centre appears to have succeeded in pacifying the political parties and armed organisations – paving the way for the elections.

The land of the Nagas was spread over India and Myanmar after India’s Independence, with much of the original Naga hills inculcated into Manipur, Assam and Arunachal. The Centre has been in talks for Greater Nagaland with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), the largest Naga rebel group, making the issue one of the biggest poll plank in the state for decades.

In 2015, interlocutor RN Ravi signed a ‘framework agreement’ with the NSCN-IM on behalf of the Centre to end the decades-old insurgency. It was signed at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s residence.

But, with no progress made, in January 2018, at least 11 political parties joined hands to boycott the elections until a final solution on the agreement was taken. However, according to a report by The Hindu, on 3 February, Ravi wrote a letter to the Naga groups, including the NSCN-IM, assuring the groups that the new Assembly would not come in the way of the final agreement. The letter reportedly helped end the impasse over the elections. Consequently, the BJP became the first party to defer the boycott agreement – and the rest followed suit.

Who Are the Key Players?

The battle for the 60 seats in the Nagaland Assembly will be fought between three key players.

1. The Naga People’s Front (NPF)

Since 2003, the NPF-led Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) has been in power, in coalition with the state BJP, Janata Dal United (JDU) and other smaller regional parties. Under Rio’s leadership, the NPF has remained the strongest contender for over a decade.

2. The NDPP-BJP alliance

In January 2018, Rio officially quit the NPF for the NDPP. Last week, the BJP walked out of the alliance with the NPF over a seat-sharing row, and joined hands with the NDPP.

3. The Congress

The Congress, mostly playing for the third position in the state, has weakened subsequently after losing power in the state in 2003 with most of its legislators moving to other parties with time, reported Hindustan Times.

The JD(U), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are contesting the elections, too.

Where Does the NPF Stand?

The NPF now finds itself in a fix after its candidate Angami – Rio’s sole opponent – withdrew his nomination papers.

Founded by Rio in 2002, the NPF has been one of the most popular party in Nagaland since it came to power in 2003. However, after a spate of resignations and reshuffles, the party now has 30 candidates left in the 60-seat assembly.

Between 2003 and 2008, the NPF-led Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) won the elections for the third consecutive term in 2014 – and Rio returned as the CM for the third time.

The NPF was at the height of its glory when the party found itself in a leadership crisis after Rio quit his position to become a Member of Parliament. TR Zeliang was subsequently appointed the chief minister.

In 2015, Nagaland became an Opposition-less state after Zeliang expanded his ministry by inducting legislators from the Congress into the government, reported Times of India.

The NPF now stands abandoned after the split of the DAN. With Rio’s walkover victory, the NPF’s troubles only seem to have increased.

Will Rio Return as the CM for the Fourth Time?

Often called the ‘tallest leader in Nagaland’, Rio, who is now the first winner of the elections after the lone NPF opponent withdrew his candidature, might return as the chief minister for the fourth time if the BJP-NDPP alliance wins.

Rio, who founded NDPP in May 2017, eventually abandoned the NPF in January 2018 without specifying any reasons – either to party chief Shurhozelie Lieziestsu or the media, reported Business Standard.

But the BJP entered a pre-poll alliance with the NDPP, with an eye on cashing-in on Rio’s popularity across the state.

The NDPP has declared candidates for 40 seats, while the BJP will be contesting from 20 seats, making the NDPP-BJP alliance one of the key players in the state.

Why Is Congress a Distant Third in the State?

The Congress in the state has weakened over time since it lost power 15 years ago in in 2003, after ruling the state for a decade with SC Jamir being the last Congress CM. In the 2003 elections, the Congress won eight seats. However, over the last five years, all its candidates deserted the party and joined other political outfits for greener pastures, reported Hindustan Times.

Before the filing of nominations on 31 January, the Congress was struggling to find candidates to contest the polls, a Congress source told Hindustan Times. The Congress reportedly held back-channel talks with the NPF for a pre-poll alliance but the ruling party decided to contest alone and declared candidates for all 60 seats.

The struggling Congress eventually declared candidates for 20 seats, of which one candidate later withdrew his candidature. On 12 February, the Nagaland Pradesh Congress Committee (NPCC) announced that it would support secular candidates on the seats the party is not contesting from, in order to stop the BJP from “compromising the way of life of the people of Nagaland,” reported Hindustan Times.

On 4 February, Rahul Gandhi lashed out at PM Modi on Twitter over the Naga Accord, saying that though it was signed in 2015, no progress has been made.

What's on Nagaland Voters' Minds?

Unemployment is a major issue in Nagaland, with over 70,000 unemployed youth in the state as of October 2016, as per a Financial Express report. The prolonged insurgency and political instability in the state have hampered investment and job opportunities in the state – making the youth dependent on government-created jobs.

In terms of infrastructural development in rural and urban areas, the Rio government boasted of having completed several development projects in Kohima during its tenure(s). However, citizens say there is much to be desired in terms of infrastructural development, as Scroll reported. Jonas Yanthan, vice-chairman of the Kohima Lotha Hoho, a tribal body, and news reader at the All India Radio station in Kohima, told Scroll that even Kohima doesn’t get regular water supply. The article also quotes residents of Touphema, Rio’s native village, as saying that he could have done more for his village while being the chief minister.

What Role Does the Church Play?

Being a Christian-majority state, the Church has always played a significant role in influencing the Nagaland Assembly elections.

The Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC), the state's biggest Christian organisation, launched a fresh campaign on 11 February asking believers to choose between the ‘Trishul’ and the ‘Cross’. The body said it feared voters would be seduced by money from forces that were “anti-Jesus Christ”, as reported by The Indian Express.

In an open letter earlier this week, the Christian body, in an open letter, appealed to all political parties to refrain from supporting the BJP government, alleging that India had witnessed severe persecution of minorities under their rule. Rev Zelhou Keyho, NBCC general secretary, told The Asian Age:

We cannot deny that the Hindutva movement in the country has become strong and invasive in an unprecedented manner over the last few years with the BJP, the political wing of the RSS, in power.
Rev Keyho, NBCC general secretary, told The Asian Age

The opposition comes in the backdrop of BJP’s newly formed alliance with the NDPP.

Is the BJP On Firm Ground in Nagaland?

In the 2013 Nagaland assembly elections, the BJP won one seat in the assembly election, with just 1.57 percent of the total vote share. Considering this, entering an alliance with the NDPP, that is not popular in the rural areas of the state, was a considered to be an audacious move – up until Rio’s win.

The BJP has always been on the back-foot in the North eastern states, over issues like beef ban and atrocities against minorities. Moreover, this is the first time the church has openly come out with a warning against Hindutva invasion in the state, where religion has never been a poll plank before, reported The Indian Express.

The BJP, that has made development a poll plank in every state would surely cash in the developmental work done under the leadership of Rio while being a part of DAN.

The Naga Peace Talks will surely be used as a talking point in poll campaigning, even though a concrete solution is still being negotiated. However, rebel groups have criticised the Centre’s decision to negotiate only with the NSCN, claiming that the organisation does not represent the aspirations of all the Naga tribes.

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

Published: 
Stay Updated

Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.

Join over 120,000 subscribers!