The Manipur state assembly election was held on 28 January 2012 and the result is expected on 6 March. This article looks into the mode of the Naga Socialist Council of Nagaland – Isak-Muivah’s (NSCN-IM) involvement in the Manipur elections. The organization's main demand was a sovereign Christian Naga nation but after the cease-fire agreement was signed in 1997, it demanded a unified Naga inhabited territory, and subsequently, a ‘Naga alternative arrangement’ for a political settlement.
Election participation as a settlement
Since the 2007 Manipur assembly election, the NSCN-IM has been actively involved in electoral politics. In the 2007 election, the United Naga Council (UNC), a frontal body of the organization, had sponsored 11 candidates to contest the election in the four Naga majority hill districts of Manipur: Ukhrul, Senapati, Tamenglong and Chandel, out of which six won seats. However, the organization was accused of massive violence during election campaigns and forcing opponent candidates to withdraw from the contest. Two years later in the 2009 Lok Sabha election, the UNC-sponsored candidate in the Outer Manipur Parliamentary Constituency failed to win. Is this a sign that the organization is losing its support?
In the 2012 Manipur assembly election, the Naga People’s Front (NPF), which is also a ruling party in Nagaland, fully backed by the NSCN-IM, has fielded 11 candidates in the same four Naga majority hill districts. These Naga majority constituencies are marked by large-scale violence orchestrated by the organization against opponent candidates. The tendency of the organization to contest the elections through proxies has become a normal phenomenon over the past few years. Their participation reveals their interest in electoral politics as a means to achieve power.
The major question that arises concerns the implications of NSCN-IM gaining political power in the state. It can be noted that the NSCN-IM demand to form a ‘Greater Nagaland or Nagalim’, integrating four districts in Manipur together with Karbi Along and North Cachar Hill districts of Assam, and parts of Arunachal Pradesh, is a threat to national integrity. During this year’s assembly election campaign Nagaland Chief Minister Nephiu Rio actively participated in the election campaign gatherings, promoting the objectives of ‘Nagalim’.
Despite these issues and NSCN-IM’s violent activities, some analysts perceive the participation in the elections as positive. Through such participation, the organization would be further co-opted and eventually absorbed into the mainstream. There are similar trends in support of this line of argument - for instance, the Mizo National Front, which once fought for an independent Mizo Nation, is now a political party in Mizoram.
Election participation as an obstacle
Since elections are understood to be the people’s verdict, it can be asked whether NSCN-IM’s participation in the election suggests that it wants to achieve the power through a democratic method. The major contention here is why the organization is skeptical of free elections.
Election-related violence perpetrated by the organization illuminates two factors as possilbe motivation for their participation in the elections. First, the organization seems to be pessimistic of the ongoing peace talks. Second, it is apparently losing its ground support. These factors have compelled them to contest the elections as a resolute attempt to obtain legitimacy. However, they are aware that their proxies are not going to win if the election is conducted freely. This could why the organization prefers the use of violence in the election process. For instance, a newspaper report said that “suspected NSCN (IM) terrorists gunned down five persons at a polling station in Chandel district of Manipur, hours after polling of the 60-member state assembly started on Saturday.” (The Times of India, Guwahati edition, 28 January 2012).
The Union Home Minister P Chidambaram has stated that the NSCN-IM is a major threat to internal security and has condemned the violence allegedly perpetrated by NSCN-IM cadres. (The Sangai Express, 1 February 2012).
In such a situation, it is difficult to understand the commitment of the organization to the peace process. Incidentally, the NSCN-IM has claimed territories and perpetrated violence in areas that are also inhabited by non-Nagas, thus also creating doubt about their actual representation of Naga demands.