In Nagaland assembly elections, it is a fight between insurgency and development

In Nagaland assembly elections, it is a fight between insurgency and development

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Kohima:  On Monday, Nagaland Home Minister Imkom L Imchen became the second leader from his party, the ruling Naga People's Front (NPF), to be discovered with large amounts of cash while campaigning for the elections on February 23.

On his way from state capital Kohima to his constituency, Mr Imchen's cars were searched by local security forces. The recovery was this - five pistols, two rifles and cash worth 1.2 crore rupees. Just days earlier, a crore in cash was recovered from the chopper of another candidate from his party.

What this points to is that despite the ceasefire signed by different militant groups with the government, the demand to unite all Naga-dominated regions around the state by forming a separate state with all these regions included in them continues to skirmish with violence.

The state's politicians say that in the upcoming assembly elections, the issue of Naga unification is top priority for the voters. In a speech in his constituency, Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio mentions the Naga issue many times: "This regional party, NPF, from the beginning, has a commitment 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, agrees. KL Chishi, former Chief Minister and the richest candidate in this election, says, "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."

For all the talk of non-violence, it is no secret that armed outfits in the state have taken to extortion in a big way, demanding money from almost everyone in the state, from businessmen to contractors to even government officials . People also talk about how these outfits are issuing diktats in favour of certain candidates across the political spectrum, in exchange for money. And so, not many players, big or small, are willing to invest in the state, or come forward to work on infrastructure related projects.

All of this has led to years of under-development, and the absence of basic necessities like roads, power or water, even though ceasefire agreements have been in place for over a decade now.

The underground insurgency seems to be the biggest player in this corruption-ridden state, openly extorting money and getting a share out of every project or business in the state, while looking the other way as money meant for infrastructure projects like roads and water supply seems to be drying up without any improvement on the ground.

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 candidates with clean records. Naga says "If we choose the right leader, the problem will go away on its own. But most of the time people are choosing leaders based on money power and corruption."

We tried getting a perspective from the insurgent outfits in the state, including the major ones like the NSCN (IM), 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.

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