SC Jamir’s return to the Congress on March 8, 2019 is as much a psychological boost to the rank and file of the party in Nagaland today as his appointment in July 2004 as governor of Goa was to the party rank and file, especially to the Congress legislators, of that State. And he lived up to the expectation of the Congress men and women of Goa when he dismissed the Parrikar-led BJP Ministry on February 3, 2005, and installed the same day at 11.00 pm a Congress-led United Legislature Party Government which was dubbed by local papers in Goa as the “Midnight Ministry”!
To his credit, Jamir went by Constitutional legalities, and his decision was approved by the Union Cabinet and Rashtrapati Bhavan though, understandably, the BJP launched a nation-wide Jamir Hatao campaign then.
Jamir’s presence in Goa was a boon to the Congress party in that State, but his absence in Nagaland was bitterly felt by the party rank and file here. The Nagaland Pradesh Congress Committee sans Jamir did not seem to have a First Among Equals but seemed like a group of Peers Among Equals. The scenario in the NPCC, post Jamir, was akin to a classroom scene in the absence of the class teacher with pandemonium of sorts breaking out – election to the post of NPCC president witnessed bitter enmity between rival candidates with supporters of one group attempting to set fire on Congress Bhavan at Kohima. This took the cake because the rivals were close relatives with one of them having married the cousin sister of the other candidate!
Jamir’s return to the Congress party deserves headlines in political circles because the grand old party of the sub-continent has, of late, been reduced to crawl in political gutters. More so in Nagaland, where it has been reduced to a paper tiger. And the coming together of the former Congress stalwarts is sort of, as mentioned in an editorial of a leading local daily, a déjà vu because we have seen all these homecomers together under Jamir’s undisputed leadership appearing to be invincible during Congress’ hey days. After all, the Naga underground and NGOs’ call for boycott of Assembly election in 1998 resulted in the Congress securing the support of 59 MLAs in a House of 60 (Independent MLA Mavil Khieya acted as the only Opposition to Jamir’s ministry then). However, this rosy picture was not to continue when in 2003, present Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio and his former close friend and present NPCC Chief K. Therie (both of who were once blue-eyed boys of Jamir) literally resurrected the NPF trouncing the Congress in the hustings by winning 19 seats and managing to cobble up other parties to form the government in Nagaland.
Though the Congress won 21 seats in 2003, within a year, seven legislators broke away and merged with the NPF. (Ironically, these seven legislators were tasked to explore possibilities of breaking up the NPF and the DAN coalition!) The NPF raised its tally to 32 through mergers by 2004, but after the 91st amendment of the Constitution came into force the same year, the ministry had to be downsized. And with downsizing came the first biggest challenge to Rio’s leadership when 19 NPF legislators extended support to Z. Obed. However, the party leadership stood firm behind Rio and the disgruntled legislators had to kow tow party line. However, unease shimmered within the NPF party and in a classic case of schadenfreude, the Congress took extreme pleasure from the misfortunes of the NPF party and tried every means to topple the Government.
To paraphrase Alexander Pope, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast/ … and the Opposition, uneasy, and confin’d from home/ Rests and expatiates in a life to come.” This was exactly the case with the then opposition Congress party in Nagaland with the party men and women expecting/ wishing/ hoping/ thinking that the party would be able to form the Government next week/ next month/ after a few months/ next year! (A former Congress functionary who is now an active operator in the NDPP, took umbrage with the comments of an NPF functionary in recent times in a WhatsApp group that the PDA Government’s days are numbered, commented: “Keep on dreaming, Sister, we in the Congress also thought we would be forming the government in the next three months for as many as 15 years!”) The then union minister Oscar Fernandes, who was also the in-charge of Congress in Nagaland, was reported to have confided that if he were to believe the Congress leaders in Nagaland, the Congress should have formed the government several times over in the State between 2003 and 2008!
Though the Congress in Nagaland had the sympathy of the UPA government at the Centre it could not form the government in the State. Congress leaders camped at New Delhi and refused to celebrate Christmas and New Year of 2007 till President’s Rule was imposed in Nagaland. Their prayer was answered and the Centre imposed PR on January 3, 2008. But it came too late, and proved to be too little; and it also boomeranged horrendously on the party because our inimitable Rio went to town crying hoarse that the Congress brought Central rule over the Naga people, and won over the hearts and sympathy of the mass. The State went to the polls within two months and though the Congress increased its tally to 23, the NPF outdid it by winning 26 and cobbled up the second DAN ministry.
In 2013, the NPF surprised itself by winning 38 seats, and the Congress shocked itself by reducing its strength to the single digit 8.
When the crisis within the NPF broke out in the first week of January 2015, a wave of schadenfreude swept over the Congress rank and file once again. But this time round, the schadenfreude turned to grief when, at the fag-end of 2015, all the 8 legislators merged with the NPF.
Things went from bad to worse for the party when in 2018 elections, the NPCC went begging – not for votes, mind you, but for people to contest on its tickets – legislator-wannabes expected to be paid handsomely to contest on Congress tickets! The party managed to field candidates in only 18 seats, and painfully, when the ballots were counted, not a single Congress candidate counted in the winning list. Zero. Zilch. Nada for the Congress!
Thus fell the grand old party in Nagaland. What was once perceived as an indestructible edifice was reduced to ashes: Not by outside forces but by the infighting. And on hindsight, this came about because of the decision, probably the worst, taken by the High Command to send Jamir to Goa in 2004. There was no class teacher in the school, so to speak, only classmates; there was no leader in the party, only office bearers – all with egos as large the constituencies they longed to represent!
And it is at such a juncture that the living legend enters into the scene, amid sounds of rolling drums and thundering trumpets, accompanied by his former apostles, expected fondly to raise the dead from the tomb; programmed to give a shot of Vitamin-Jamir to the Congress!
And the question going on in the minds of many in the political circles is whether Jamir can make a Phoenix out of the Congress in Nagaland.
Can the political maestro live up to expectations and deliver?
(The writer belongs to a political party. The opinions expressed are personal views of the writer.)