PM’s Poll Tonic

The visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Kohima on February 27 as part of the campaign ahead of the March 5 election was obviously well orchestrated by the Congress party managers sending out some crucial political signals to the electorate. Besides the assurance of an ‘honorable settlement’, the other issue of great public expectation—the construction of the 4-lane of National Highway 39—was virtually laid out for the taking. As Prime Minister of India, it was only appropriate that he was slotted to campaign in the State Capital of Kohima while the Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi will do her chorus in cosmopolitan Dimapur and Congress bastion Mokokchung. Whether by projecting the face of a Congress Prime Minister in Kohima would have served the purpose of the State Congress in reaching out to the electorates across the Tenyimi region, especially the major districts of Kohima and Phek—seen as strongholds of the NPF, one will have to wait for the end result after March 5. But what the Nagaland Congress did courtesy Mr Prime Minister from the rampart of the State’s political capital is definitely the high point of the Congress campaign so far.

It is also a strategic point for the Congress that if it wants to make a bigger impact in the tally count (crucial to get a simple majority), it needs to get at least some seats across the Kohima-Tseminyu-Phek-Meluri belt. The Congress was almost wiped out in this region winning only 2 seats out of 13 assembly constituency during the last elections. Even in its stronghold of Mokokchung district with 10 seats at stake, it is highly unlikely that the Congress can repeat its past performance because of various factors including realignment of political forces and ticket distribution. Our political guess is that for both the major party i.e. Congress and NPF, the key to coming to power will lie on not just sweeping their respective strongholds but to win seats across the State consistently. 

Coming back to the visit, while the Prime Minister made other promises for ‘peace, prosperity and development’, his remarks on the Naga political issue would have been closely watched. The careful and selective use of terms such as “extra-mile” and “honorable settlement” on the Indo-Naga peace process is also an indication that Delhi has come to accept the issue as an emotive one—centered on the political aspiration and rights of the Naga people. Likewise, the statement of the Prime Minister that the UPA government has been “open and liberal” in their approach to the Naga talks will no doubt inject the much needed dose of confidence back into the peace process suffering from its lowest ebb in the aftermath of the remarks made by none other than the National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister.   

However the problem with the Prime Minister’s assurance of “honorable settlement” and his assertion of “open and liberal approach” to the Naga talks is quite clearly, the timing. An election rally is never the best time or laboratory to test the political commitments of the establishment, especially when it comes to something as big as the Indo-Naga political issue. During the heat of election, any Prime Minister can woo the electorate with the choicest of words. So the real intent of the Prime Minister’s assurance to the Naga public will be tested at the talks table and whether as the political head of the Indian government, the Prime Minister will indeed go the “extra-mile” and push for an honorable settlement. Even if it was for only 45 minutes, yet having made that political journey to Nagaland as the Prime Minister of a Congress led UPA government, the fortunes of the Congress in the years to come will now depend on how far the party will adhere to the promise spelled out in its election declaration. This is more so of the Prime Minister’s assurance on the Naga political issue.