On Monday, Nagaland Home Minister and senior leader of the ruling Naga People's Front became the second leader from his party to have cash seized by the Assam Rifles during the campaign for the state assembly elections on February 23.
On his way from state capital Kohima to his constituency in the Mokokchung district, Imkong L Imchen's cars were searched by the security forces. They recovered five pistols, two rifles, cash worth Rs. 1.2 crore and 10 bottles of alcohol. A few days ago, Rs. 1 crore in cash was recovered from the chopper of another candidate belonging to the ruling Naga People's Front (NPF).
These incidents are making it difficult for Nagaland to put its insurgency-ridden past behind. The insurgency, that lasted 30 years, had left thousands dead. The root cause of the violence, the demand to unite all Naga dominated regions around the state, led to many violent years in the state before groups involved in the insurgency signed ceasefire agreements with the Indian government.
But it's not a closed chapter yet. The state's politicians say that in the upcoming assembly elections the issue of Naga unification is top priority for the voters.
When we caught up with Nagaland's Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio in the Zhadima Village of his constituency in the Northern Angami II, a few kiloemtres out of Kohima, we heard him mention the Naga issue many times in his speech. Later, when we asked him if the issue is the biggest one in this election, he said, "This regional party, NPF, from the beginning is committed to find an honourable settlement to the issue. Therefore, in principle, the motto of the party is to find a solution by non-violence."
The Congress, the main opposition party in the state, agrees. KL Chishi, former Chief Minister and incidentally the richest candidate in this election, told us, "A very specific issue is the settlement of the Naga problem. This is everyone's concern, especially the youth. Everyone is concerned and wants peace. As long as the issue remains unsolved there will be no sense of security."
But on the ground, there are allegations that since the ceasefire, armed outfits in the state have now taken to extortion in a big way, demanding money from almost everyone in the state, from businessmen to contractors to even govt officials. People also talk about how these outfits are issuing diktats in favour of certain candidates across the political spectrum, in exchange for money. All of this has led to years of underdevelopment and the absence of basic necessities like roads, power or water, even though ceasefire agreements have been in place for over a decade now.
At the popular Furtados music school in Dimapur, govt employee Lenu Yaden told us why there are other issues on his mind. Mr Yaden said, "Yes there is a problem. It should not be an excuse for holding development. Should not be an excuse to deny basic amenities."
Musician Alobo Naga, has led a campaign sponsored by the Election Commission, to try and make the Nagaland polls corruption free. He has composed a song and toured the state extensively to try and get people to sign up to vote only for clean candidates. Mr Naga said, "If we choose the right leader then the problem will go away on its own. But most of the time people are choosing leaders based on money power and corruption. If we fail to choose the right leaders there will be no solution anyway."
Geoffery Yaden, who runs the popular newspaper Nagaland Post, tries to put things in perspective for us. "Basic necessities of people continue to remain unfulfilled. They need to be addressed. Talking about this politics is just a red herring. At the end of the day this is an issue between the underground groups and the govt of India. That doesn't solve problems on the ground," he said.
We tried getting a perspective from the insurgent outfits in the state, including the major ones like the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak Muivah), but despite repeated requests to their top leadership, we were not allowed to visit their headquarters at Camp Hebron, located about 40 kilometres away from the Dimapur town. And so, while one election may not change the complex ground realities in Nagaland, it seems the state's electorate is not willing to forego the issue of development, as the state battles its insurgency scars.