GUWAHATI: The Naga People’s Front (NPF) is facing a tough challenge of converting Naga sub-nationalism in the Manipur hills into concrete electoral gains, an uphill task in which it has fallen short in the past two elections.The NPF this time will go to polls with its four MLAs and the burning issue of the unresolved ‘Naga issue’.
Contesting the ascendant BJP, which heads Manipur’s coalition government and shares power in Nagaland, the NPF faces a resource crunch but is not short on determination. Born in Nagaland, the NPF spread its wings to Manipur about a decade ago. It had contested the Assembly elections of 2012 and 2017 and on both occasions ended up winning four seats.
The Nagas have sizeable presence in the hill districts of Manipur besides in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Eleven of Manipur’s 60 Assembly seats are considered ‘Naga-dominated’. They all lie on the hills where the tribals live.
While the Nagas en bloc stand for an ‘inclusive’ solution to the Naga issue and the NPF is the only party in Manipur that carries the ‘Naga’ tag, the Naga sentiment or Naga sub-nationalism, however, does not get reflected in the election results.
The whole idea behind the formation of the NPF’s Manipur unit was apparently to push the Naga cause. The Naga rebels demand a solution that encompasses the Nagas of Nagaland as well as Manipur, Assam and Arunachal.
The NPF has failed to capitalise on the Naga sentiment in the light of Naga issue. Party chief Shurhozelie Liezietsu admitted this by stating that elections are a different matter and sometimes, even two brothers contest elections from different parties. At the same time, he said the NPF is not confined to one community.
“We will try to win more seats this time. The NPF is new to many people in Manipur even today. It is Naga People’s Front but a party cannot confine itself to a certain community. We cover others too. As of now, the people in Manipur think that the NPF is only for the Nagas,” Liezietsu told this newspaper.
He continued: “We don’t tell people in Manipur that the NPF is a Naga party. We say it is a political party. We field Kuki candidates as well. We also have other candidates. We want to embrace all communities in the true spirit of a political party.”The NPF is likely to contest 10 to 11 seats and Liezietsu is confident the party will be able to better its past performances.
Imphal-based political analyst Pradip Phanjoubam says there are two factors — ideal and reality. “The reality is that the NPF in Nagaland was opposed to the BJP until being united recently, and the ideal is that you talk about Naga sub-nationalism, but it doesn’t get reflected on the ground.”
Once the Nagas had boycotted the Manipur elections and all the seats in the hills were won by Kuki candidates. Whatever ground the NPF captured in Manipur was because the party had projected itself as a part of Naga nationalism, he said.
Earlier, the contest in Manipur’s hills used to be among the Congress, some smaller regional parties and independents. By 2017, the Congress had to face multiple opponents. There were NPF, BJP and National People’s Party (NPP). As in the last polls, the seats in the hills will be shared by these four and possibly, some independents.
With political analysts predicting a hung House again, the support of the NPF and the NPP will be crucial in the formation of the next government. They are two key components of the BJP-led incumbent government.