Candlelight march
A candlelight march being taken out in protest against Tirong Aboh's killing in Itanagar.(File image)

“If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed,” said Mark Twain. Though the historical context of this quote was different, the very essence seems increasingly relevant to the current variety of contents of the conventional media, particularly in connection with the ensuing by-poll of the 56 Khonsa West Assembly constituency in Arunachal Pradesh.

This is more so because, except the diktat allegedly issued by the controversial Naga Army (Ollo), threatening the voters to cast their mandate for a particular party aspiring candidate, the hopes and aspirations and endless sufferings of the natives of Khonsa West constituency have not been properly highlighted in the media, the way and extent it should have been.

Precisely, in a secular democratic country like India, electioneering process has been one of the contents that is competitively prioritized for coverage by the media establishments to generate maximum readers or viewers. For, it is related to the power seekers, who will shape the future of the millions in a constitutionally given tenure for a period by creating (public welfare?) policies.

However, if the content is ignored under pressure and therefore not appropriately presented for public debate on the public domain, the implications will spectacularly remain quite harmful and critical.

According to the recent announcement made by the Election Commission of India, there will be assembly by-polls in 61 constituencies spreading across 17 states, including one Union Territory which is scheduled on October 21. Accordingly, the results will be declared on October 24. In Northeast; by-polls will be held one each for Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya and four in Assam. Among all these, Khonsa West can be considered one of the most significant and sensitive constituencies from multiple dimensions.

Following the massacre of former NPP MLA Tirong Aboh, there has been a clear crisis of leadership in the 56 Khonsa West assembly constituency. Significantly, when the natives of Tirap were yet to recover from trauma after the brutal massacre of Lt Aboh, the recent controversial diktat allegedly published by the Naga Army (Ollo) has deepened the fear psychosis among the voters.

Remarkably, the diktat was circulated at a time when the NIA is carrying out the investigation of the massacre allegedly committed by the NSCN (IM). Hence, the culprit(s) have clearly undermined the Indian security system. As such, the common mass of the locality speculate that the ensuing by-poll will be conducted just to mark the formality of the electioneering process which is nothing other than an irony of the Indian democracy.

Since the Khonsa West constituency is located in close proximity with the Republic of the Union of Myanmar and the Indian state of Nagaland, the local residents have been vulnerably exposed to atrocities committed by numerous factions of the NSCN over the last many decades. As such, the natives of this locality have been forced to pay ransom, both in cash and kind to these factions. Consequently, the subsistent local economy has wholly been paralyzed.

As the Indo-Myanmar border has been remaining porous ever since its arbitrary demarcation, the Indian security forces deployed there are yet to fully stabilize this sensitive space and attain peace. Under such circumstances, the natives of Khonsa West are easily trapped by these militant outfits. Their opinions, conscience, voices are suppressed. They have simply lost their right to question, what is wrong or right.

Notably, due to situational disadvantage, conventional media, like newspapers and television channels cannot reach certain places. However, with the continued extension of the internet services, social media has emerged as an alternative to generate public opinions.

Going ahead, social media has returned as one of the major sources for news gathering of the conventional media. As such, in a critical situation like this, the natives of Khonsa West could have highlighted their crisis on social media pages.

Contrary, the local residents are frightened in such a degree that they even afraid to post a voice on Facebook, forget about writing an article, a letter to the editors of the newspapers or a comment before the camera.  For them, silence has become the only answer to their endless sufferings!

While sharing their grievances to this writer recently, a host of natives from Lazu said, “During every election, we wish and wait to see a new leader who will be sincere and committed enough to understand our sentiments and address our sufferings to find a way out for lasting peace. We strongly believe, a young leader, with a sense of solidarity will bring changes. Contrary, all the time, we get to taste the same old wine in a new bottle. As such, addressing our concerns and sufferings has become a distant dream.”

On condition of anonymity, they added, “We have experienced enough of the incompetency of the existing leaders. What we need today is a new young blood, free from criminal charges, as our leader who can settle our issues amicably and bring development.”

Notably, there were criminal charges against certain leaders. However, how they secured party tickets is still a mystery for the natives of Khonsa West.

It must be mentioned here that the BJP regime has been quite known for its young brigade. From the top to bottom, both in its Ministry as well as in the party and other allied organizations, the BJP veterans have been replaced by these vocal young brigades.

Taking reference of this fact, the residents of Khonsa argued, “Will the BJP dare to introduce a young leader in Khonsa West constituency during this by-poll?”

As of now, it has been learnt that, during this by-poll, there is no chances of filling nominations from the opposition parties. Contrary, as many as six candidates have been trying their luck to get a ticket from the ruling BJP. These six aspirants include the BJP candidate of the 2019 assembly election, Lt Tirong Aboh’s wife, one ex-MLA, one ex-minister, an old hand public leader and a young and fresh social worker.

The BJP candidate of the 2019 assembly elections, who was defeated by NPP candidate Lt Tirong Aboh, is again on the frontline to secure ruling party ticket for the ensuing by-poll. Significantly, he also contested in the 2014 assembly election for the first time from Khonsa West introducing the Naga Peoples’ Front (NPF) in Arunachal Pradesh that received huge public criticism. However, his alleged involvement with the recent circulation of the Naga Army (Ollo)’s diktat has put his luck in uncertainty.

Moreover, a highly placed source informed this writer that Lt Aboh’s wife is yet to join the BJP formally to become the party’s primary member. As such, under what norms and circumstance the ruling party will pitch her as a candidate in the ensuing by-poll will be quite spectacular.

Mrs Aboh’s luck to secure party ticket visibly rests on the sympathy card. Remarkably, the natives of Khonsa West are quite frustrated with the former leaders who have again been aspiring for ruling party tickets for the by-poll.

“Instead of solving the conflicts, the former leaders have simply carried forward complicacies. And we have been made a mute spectator of poverty and violence,” they asserted.

It is clear that the natives of Khonsa West have no ideological support for any of the factions of the NSCN. Instead, taking advantage of their geographical isolation and remoteness, various factions of the outfit have been forcing them to pay ransom just to generate revenue. However, there are also allegations that these factions are often used by certain candidates during election to subjugate the voices of the opposition.

Hence, by casting their mandate to a young leader, the natives of Khonsa West want to break the mélange of the foul play. They believe, only a young leader can safeguard their lives and issues.

Therefore, the selection of a candidature for the ensuing Khonsa West by-poll by the ruling party will be an acid test from multiple dimensions; it will expose the BJP’s understanding on the conflicts and the aspirations of the people of Khonsa West.

It will reveal the BJP’s motive, whether they are committed enough to expand their young brigade in this part of the country or not. After all, the natives of Khonsa West do also have a dream to participate in a development politics under the leadership of a young and visionary one to achieve development at par with rest of the country. As the natives say, future of Khonsa West rests with the decision of the stalwarts of the ruling party.

Debananda S Medak

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