Nagalandís constricted choice

The NPF brought in several unpopular policies, but the opposition Congress is leaderless and divided

Lately, Nagaland has become the centre of a political duel between the state's contesting parties as well as between the UPA and the BJP. Never before has Nagaland seen such a rich galaxy of star campaigners, such as Sonia Gandhi, Smriti Irani, Rahul Gandhi, A.K. Antony, and others. Ironically, it is an indication that Nagaland is definitely a part of mainstream politics.

The parties in the fray are the NPF (Naga People's Front), BJP, JD(U), UNDP (United Naga Democratic Party), NC, SP, NCP, RJD, Congress and a host of independents. The odds seem to favour the NPF not only because of its charismatic leader Neiphiu Rio, but also because of a pre-poll alliance with the BJP and JD(U). The Congress is yet to form an alliance, nor does it have a leader of Rio's stature. In this light, the outcome appears predictable. However, Nagaland's political iceberg hides more than it reveals, and it might turn political winds in a different direction.

There have been some dismally bad policies from the NPF-led DAN (Democratic Alliance of Nagaland) government in its second term, such as the bogus teachers scam. Another was the road shows coinciding with the tribal festivals. The aim was to showcase development since the NPF-DAN came to power. Instead, these earned infamy for becoming a campaign trail that severely strained the state exchequer. Another controversial policy was the Nagaland Retirement from Public Employment (second amendment) Act of 2009, by which thousands of government employees were retired as soon as they completed 60 years or had worked for 35 years, whichever was earlier. They were thrown out of their jobs and given an unplanned retirement. The government's excuse was that the drastic step was meant to provide employment to youth. Much distaste for the NPF has been shown, especially by women, for its refusal to implement 33 per cent reservation for women in local bodies. Its talk on gender equity does not hold water and is considered an "eyewash" by the Joint Action Committee for Women Reservation. The NPF, despite being popular, projects itself as a regional party, a male-dominated one not on friendly terms with neighbouring states. The Congress, during its undisturbed rule of a decade prior to 2003, was on peaceful terms with neighbours.

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