In the first ten years that elections were held in Nagaland, they were not allowed to vote, but this time the people living in the four eastern districts of the State may well hold the key to power.

The districts of Mon, Tuensang, Kiphire and Longleng account for 20 seats, a third of the 60-member Assembly. Inhabited by six major Naga tribes — the Konyaks, the Phoms, the Changs, the Khiamniungans, the Yimchungrus and the Sangtams — the region is also a part of India’s border with Myanmar.

While the integration of Naga areas in other states such as Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh is believed to be a major stumbling block in the peace talks between the Centre and the insurgents of National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muhivah), there has been a demand in the four eastern districts to carve out a separate State.

“For 59 years we have been neglected and there has been no development in our areas. Whether it is education, health or even road connectivity – we lag far behind the other areas in Nagaland,” Pongom, president of the Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation (ENPO), the organisation that is spearheading the agitation for a separate State of ‘Frontier Nagaland’ told The Hindu over telephone.

Mr. Pongom also says that the six Naga tribes of eastern Nagaland are discriminated against. “These six tribes make up about 45 per cent of the total population, but we hardly find more than 4-5 per cent of jobs in the State government held by people from these tribes,” he said.

In the coming elections the ENPO wants to remain neutral, but the very fact that the leadership has expressed satisfaction with the progress of talks with the Centre on the one hand while resisting the inclusion of the Naga People’s Front (NPF)-led State government is indicative of the mood.

In 2008, the two most important parties in the state — the ruling NPF and the Congress — had won eight seats each. The BJP and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) won a seat apiece with the other two going to independents.

The Congress, which prides itself on being “the architect of the unity” that was created when the region was merged with the Naga Hills district, has in its election manifesto promised a “Special Blue-print Economic Development Plan” as well as the setting up of a separate Mini Secretariat in the area.

Former Chief Minister S. C. Jamir accuses Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio of “neglecting his family while wooing outsiders” referring to the NPF’s demand on integration of all Naga inhabited areas in other States while trouble was brewing here .