BJP to contest Nagaland polls; ECI issues notice

A day after a BJP representative signed the joint declaration assuring that the party will not give tickets or file nomination for the coming assembly polls before a solution to the vexed peace process is found, the state BJP decided that it would contest the polls. The party suspended Kheto Sema, the leader who had signed the joint declaration along with all other political parties of the state.

Union minister Kiren Rijiju, who is the election in-charge of the party in the state, maintained that elections are a constitutional process and the central government is bound by the Constitution.

In a tweet, Rijiju said: "Holding of timely election is a constitutional process. Govt is bound by the constitution. Govt of India attaches utmost importance to the long pending Naga issue. We believe that peaceful election in Nagaland will facilitate the ongoing peace talks & strengthen our commitment."

The Naga rebels as well as the tribal civil society groups have been pressing upon the centre to find a solution to the vexed peace process before the elections. Monday's joint declaration by all parties posed a hurdle for the assembly elections in the state which will be held on February 27.

The BJP announcement comes as its alliance partner, the Naga Peoples' Front lost 10 of its lawmakers.

The lawmakers, who support the demand of solution before election, resigned from the state assembly on Tuesday. Sources say they are likely to join a new party - the NDPP, formed by Neiphiu Rio, former Nagaland chief minister.

Last week, Naga Hoho, the apex body of all Naga tribes, had openly called for a boycott the assembly elections. The working committee of six Naga National Political Groups also wanted to put the elections on hold till a final solution could be arrived at.

On the other-hand, notifications for the assembly elections in Meghalaya and Nagaland have been issued on Wednesday.

Filing of nominations in both the states began Wednesday after the notification for the two states was issued by the Election Commission.

Nagaland and Meghalaya will go to polls on February 27. Last date for filing the nominations will be on February 7 from 11 am to 3 pm for both the states with 60-member assemblies. Form 1 will be issued for filing of nominations. Chief Electoral Officer of Nagaland Abhijit Sinha had held a meeting with all political parties in Kohima on Tuesday.

The meeting was called in the wake of several political parties announcing their intention not to contest the Assembly elections.

However, the Chief Electoral Officer, clarified that the assembly elections in Nagaland will be held as per the decided schedule.

The Election Commission has told the Naga umbrella group of tribal bodies and civil organisations in New Delhi seeking postponing the election until centre concludes the 20-year-old peace talks with NSCN (IM) with a solution that the polls cannot be reversed.

The Core Committee of Nagaland Tribal Hohos and Civil Organizations (CCNTHCO), which is spearheading the 'solution before election' drive has convinced all parties, including the Congress, to stay away from the polls. BJP, which pulled out of this drive on Tuesday after initially agreeing to it, has decided to name its candidates on Thursday.

"We are in the election process and we will be issuing the tickets to all our candidates tomorrow," BJP state president Visasolie Lhounghu said.

Convener of the umbrella body, Theja Therieh told TOI that the state BJP unit had sought time till Wednesday to consult its high command on reviewing its decision to back out of the poll boycott call.

"BJP leadership in the state told us that they have written to their high command for a directive. We are still waiting for their response," Therieh said. He added, "If BJP or any other party decide to go with the election that will amount to betrayal."

He said that the full bench of the Election Commission met the delegation of the core committee in New Delhi and heard its demand. "The commission has acknowledged our demand but said that it is not in a position to review the election notification. The commission is duty-bound. It is a stalemate now unless government of India takes a call," he said.
Therieh said that the electorate is divided over the solution before election demand. "The people at the grass root do not understand the politics behind all these push for election before the solution...there is a division among the electorate."

He said that the decision to call for a Nagaland bandh on Thursday was taken on January 29 in the meeting of all the apex tribal hohos and mass based organisations. "But, confusion is spreading that the bandh may not be observed uniformly. Nevertheless, this bandh was a unanimous decision of all concerned and therefore the bandh will go ahead as resolved, "he said.

"The very purpose of this bandh is in pursuance of the resolutions adopted collectively by Tribal Hohos, mass based organisations and all political parties that Nagas prefer to have solution first rather than election now," he said.

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