The two main parties — the Congress and the Naga People’s Front — mention women’s empowerment in their manifesto and yet have failed to field a single woman candidate.

Two recent incidents of seizures of cash — Rs. 1.1 crore from the car of the State’s Home Minister, Imkong L. Imchen, and another Rs. 1 crore from the helicopter of another candidate — have brought to the fore the issue of large amounts of money that change hands in the course of elections in Nagaland.

The deep pockets required to contest elections has not only led to massive corruption but also contributed in-part to a total absence of women’s participation in the legislative assembly.

In a State that has a long tradition of women’s participation in civil society, there has never been a woman elected to the Nagaland Assembly.

“According to customary law, Naga women have no land rights, no property rights and no inheritance rights. Though you have women working in offices, local market-places or in the fields, the money is controlled by the men,” said Rosemary Dzuvichu, advisor to the Naga Mother’s Association, a civil society organisation that has been at the fore on issues such as the ongoing peace process and fighting alcoholism and drug abuse.

Just days before these elections, the inability of a woman to summon enough funds cost her the chance to become a candidate. Ms. Khegoli, a senior leader of the Congress’ Mahila wing in Nagaland, had wanted to contest from Ghaspani-I in Dimapur district, but says the State leadership of the party failed to support her.

“The party higher-ups in the State kept asking me, ‘how much money do you have? The party does not have funds, you have to raise money.’ They completely discouraged me and eventually I could not go through with it,” Ms. Khegoli said.

The two main parties — the Congress and the Naga People’s Front — mention women’s empowerment in their manifesto and yet have failed to field a single woman candidate.

Ms. Dzuvichu rued that every party has strong women’s wings, but they are merely used for campaigning. Parties hardly identify women candidates as “winnable” or “serious contenders” and the few women who have contested elections in the past were “either compromise candi dates or used as publicity stunts.”

Two women have thrown their hats in the ring, and political pundits are particularly hopeful of the chances of Rakhila, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) nominee from Tuensang Sadar-II, Rakhila.

Having served as the chairperson of the State Social Welfare Advisory Board, she has a record of being connected with women empowerment. She is the widow of former BJP MLA and Minister, Lakiumong, and this is the second time she is contesting from her husband’s former constituency.

When contesting on the Nationalist Congress Party ticket in 2008, she lost by a mere 353 votes.

The other woman candidate, Dr. Yangrela is contesting as an independent candidate in Mokokchung town — a Congress stronghold.

The constituency has more women voters than men, but it remains to be seen whether she is able to rally their support. She is up against sitting Congress MLA C. Apok Jamir, son of the former Chief Minister. The NPF candidate, Rosemtong, is also the son of a former Congressman.