The Home Minister of Nagaland Imkong L Imchen was held on 18 February in Wokha district for allegedly carrying Rs 1.1 crore cash beside a cache of arms and ammunition and liquor in a vehicle.
The seizure was made at around 6:15 in the morning by Assam Rifles personnel during a routine frisking of vehicles. Imkong was on his way to his constituency Koridang in Mokokchung district from Kohima. Subsequently, the minister was handed over to the district administration and police. Besides cash, the seized items included five 7.65 caliber pistols, two .303 rifles, 80 live cartridges of 7.65 pistol, 100 live cartridges of .303 rifle and 11 bottles of liquor.
Imchen is contesting the 23 February assembly elections on Naga People’s Front (NPF) ticket. He is also the NPF campaign-in-charge of Mokokchung district where the party has fielded 10 candidates. NPF is a major constituent of ruling Democratic Alliance of Nagaland. Taking strong exception to the incident, opposition Congress has demanded immediate action against Imchen. Senior party leader and in-charge of Nagaland Luizinho Faleiro is said to have met the Election Commission members in New Delhi to press the demand.
But, all these have been part of Nagaland politics for a long time and Imchen is an old offender. In 2010, Imchen was detained at the Kathmandu airport for carrying Indian currency notes in the denominations of Rs 1000 and Rs 500 which are banned in Nepal. The minister was then believed to have been carrying nine lakh rupees with him in Nepal before he was detained at the Tribhuvan Internationl Airport.
This time the arrest of Imchen had come barely two days after an Election Commission surveillance team seized one crore rupees cash from an NPF candidate in the state’s Longleng district. The seizure was made soon after a chopper carrying Nyemli Phom, who is contesting the 23 February assembly elections from the Tamlu constituency on Naga People’s Front (NPF) ticket landed at the Assam Rifles helipad at Longleng in eastern Nagaland.
Taking potshots at chief minister Neiphiu Rio, veteran Congress leader and former chief minister of Nagaland SC Jamir reacted, “Rio is dropping money everywhere.” He demanded a CBI or NIA probe into the incident which comes barely a day after Jamir’s assertion that Mandate 2013 would be a “fight between money power and people’s power.” He had urged people to reject “corrupt money siphoned from funds meant for public.”
But, even the Congress is not unblemished. Its candidate from Sanish Assembly constituency in Wokha district, Salungthung Lotha was also detained after four lakh rupees was found in his vehicle during a routine check by the Assam Rifles and the police. Poll guidelines bar carrying cash of more than Rs 50,000 by anyone during poll process. The EC has also set a ceiling of eight lakh rupees as election expenditure for each candidate. But, allegations are rife that a good number of candidates are openly distributing large number of money to buy votes and voters in the state.
Meanwhile even in this murky scenario, the Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC) is trying its best to keep the poll process clean and free of corruption. It is continuously trying to persuade and influence voters as well as the candidates by putting the fear of Christ in them. It has asked the electorate not to get influenced by money, apply one person one vote, honour the individuals right to vote and look out for God-fearing, principled and capable candidates. The priests have vowed to even hold prayers outside booths on the polling day to put moral pressure on the candidates as well as the contestants. This effort of the Church has come in for huge acclaim from all concerned, even as news of corruption pours in.
Out of 186 candidates to have revealed their assets, 84 are crorepatis. In the 2008 polls, 58 out of 218 in the fray were crorepatis.. The average assets in the last polls (2008) were Rs 2.34 crores. This figure has gone up to Rs 3.02 crores this year. CM Neiphieu Rio has notched up the highest growth; he has gone up from Rs 6.23 crores to Rs 30.07 crores. KL Chisi of the Congress is the richest worth Rs 50.10 crores. 45 percent of the candidates have not declared their IT/PAN details and only one candidate have made public his annual income.
Poll analysts believe that this time the fight between the Congress and the NPF will be tight. With many independent in the fray, many of whom are tipped to come out winners, use of money is again feared to be rampant in ‘horse trading.’ These independents for the formation of the Government after the results are declared on 28 February.
Beside money, gun power is also a point of concern in the run up to the polls. The cadres of almost all underground Naga groups are supposedly throwing their weight openly behind certain candidates who are in the fray and bullying people by the bruteness of the gun to vote for their desired candidate. An order was issued on 7 February asking all rebel group cadres including leaders to abstain from carrying weapons during the poll process. But the NSCN-IM strongly protested this order. NSCN-IM senior functionaries Phungthing Shimray and Karaibo Chawang talking exclusively said, “Our cadres are neither involved, nor interfering in the poll process. Reports that our guys are trying to inject fear and impose dictum to people to vote for any particular candidate is all rubbish. The attitude and actions of the CFMG Chairman is also most unfortunate. Why are we asked not to carry arms till the poll process gets over? It is nowhere in the ceasefire ground rules…were the ground rules framed by the present Chairman? Who is he then to impose his diktat?” they said.
However, senior functionary of the NSCN (KK), Singson Kuki called the decision of the IM faction unfortunate and said that there is no harm if the rebel groups follow the order for the mere days of the poll process. However, Kuki acknowledged without dropping names that it is a reality that cadres of rebel groups are indeed trying to influence and bully voters by the gun.
Sandeep Banerjee is a senior journalist based in Nagaland.