Nagaland shutdown evokes mixed response

HINDUSTAN TIMES/NNN GUWAHATI/DIMAPUR, 1st Feb: The statewide dawn-to-dusk shutdown called on Thursday by Naga tribal bodies and civil organisations in protest against an official notification for the February 27 assembly elections evoked mixed response in the state.

The strike was near total in the state’s commercial capital Dimapur, but in the state capital Kohima there was not much impact to the call by core committee of Naga tribal hohos and civil organisations (CCNTHCO).

The influential body which represents all major tribes and civil groups had called the ‘bandh’ after Election Commission issued the poll notification on Wednesday ignoring a general appeal to postpone the polling until the over seven-decade-old Naga political problem is solved.

“Bandh is observed only in pockets. Out of the state’s 11 districts, tribal organisations in seven had decided not to go ahead with the polls,” said a senior police officer. He said there was no report of any untoward incident.

The CCNTHCO had appealed to the Centre and the EC to defer the elections till a solution to the ongoing Naga peace talks is reached.

The Centre is holding peace parleys with the Naga militant outfit, the NSCN (IM), since 1997. The Narendra Modi government at the Centre signed a framework agreement with the outfit in 2015, raising expectations of an early solution to one of the oldest insurgency movement in Asia.

Following the appeal by the influential body, 11 political parties including ruling Naga People’s Front and its coalition partner BJP had agreed to boycott the polls on Monday.

The saffron outfit, however, backed out of the boycott call a day later. With the NPF also now saying it will file nominations if other parties do so, there is now uncertainty on what steps others, who signed the declaration, will take.

In 1998 assembly elections, then ruling Congress led by SC Jamir virtually got a walkover after other political parties abstained from the polling paying heed to a similar boycott call by the tribal bodies and civil organisations.

The ‘bandh’ call given by CCNTHCO received a setback with Angami Public Organisation (APO), Lotha Hoho, Eastern Naga People’s Organisation (ENPO) and Chakesang Public Organisation (CPO) announcing not to impose the shutdown in their areas.

“We leave it to the conscience of the people and not enforce the bandh forcibly. As per our reports, it is total in many areas as people have chosen not to venture out,” Theja Therieh, convener of CCNTHCO, said.

“We are not against democratic process and election. But the momentum of the talks, which are at a crucial stage, would get lost if election is held at this juncture,” he added.

Apart from tribal bodies and civil groups, six rebel outfits including National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), which is engaged in talks with Centre, have also appealed for a boycott of the polls.

The working committee of the six outfits—Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs)—said anyone who defies the wishes of the people and file nominations would be held accountable and branded anti-Naga.

According to Newmai News Network, the dawn to dusk Nagaland bandh called by CCNTHCO affected several parts of Nagaland.

However, APO, CPO, ENPO and Lotha Hoho did not participate in the bandh.

Thursday’s bandh affected inter-state and inter district transports severely. Nagaland’s commercial hub Dimapur was the most affected town as the usual brisk commercial activities came to a grinding halt. Educational institutions remained closed.

Meanwhile, a meeting has been called on February 3 at 11 am at Hotel Japfu in Kohima to chart further course of action. The meeting is being convened by CCNTHCO.

“The presidents and office bearers of all apex tribe hohos and the civil society organisations should attend the meeting without fail,” said CCNTHCO.

CCNTCO in a statement said that “conscientious Naga people have spoken”. It also stated that despite the differing voices of the leaders, Thursday’s bandh has “evoked emotional responses”, reflecting the general sentiment of the common people.

“Dimapur district including Chumoukedima town wore a deserted look, likewise with Mokokchung, Zunheboto, Meluri, Peren and Tseminyu,” claimed CCNTHCO. In places where bandh was opposed, people decided to support the cry of “Solution, Not Election” in different manners, added the CCNTHCO.

According to CCNTHCO, Wokha town witnessed very few vehicular movements. “Kohima town was removed of its bustling atmosphere with many people remaining indoors,” CCNTHCO added. All shops were closed in Phek, with prayer and fasting programmes held in different places for Naga solution.

Perhaps in a first for the state, no volunteers were deployed anywhere to enforce the bandh with conscientious citizens voluntarily observing the bandh. As a concerned Naga posted in social media, “A bandh where there are no volunteers to impose bandh is a successful bandh!”.

“Since public response has been amply clear, political parties may reflect on this ground swell of public response. Any violation of the January 29 declaration would be akin to betrayal. CCNTHCO is hopeful that there will be no Judas in the Naga family. For those bent on filing nominations, it’s not only the political party, which would be held responsible but even the tribe to which he or she belongs would be tainted by the act of these opportunistic individuals,” the CCNTHCO statement added.

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