Congress rides lesser-known Jamir for revival in Nagaland

S. Supongmeren Jamir’s votes polled was almost equal to the number of eastern Nagaland citizens who abstained from voting, spurred by the ENPO boycott; he must now rebuild the Congress in the State from scratch

Updated - June 06, 2024 07:10 pm IST

Published - June 06, 2024 06:59 pm IST - GUWAHATI

S. Supongmeren Jamir. File

S. Supongmeren Jamir. File | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

GUWAHATI

Jamir is one of the most searched Naga surnames online. The primary reason is former Nagaland Chief Minister S.C. Jamir who was also the Governor of Goa, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Odisha.

The spotlight in Nagaland is now on a different Jamir — S. Supongmeren Jamir — who has pulled off an improbable victory for the Congress in a State where all 60 MLAs belong to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. He bagged the lone Lok Sabha seat in Nagaland by defeating Chumben Murry of the ruling Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) by 50,984 votes.

Fall from grace

The fortunes of the Congress in Christian-majority Nagaland started dipping after the end of the S.C. Jamir era in 2003 when his protege, Neiphiu Rio, became the Chief Minister, heading a Naga People’s Front (NPF) government. The NPF was in power for three consecutive terms before the newly-formed NDPP tied up with the BJP to oust it in 2018. The BJP had been a part of the NPF-led formation too.

The NDPP retained power in 2023 after most of the NPF legislators, including former Chief Minister T.R. Zeliang, crossed over. Such has been the dominance of the NDPP and BJP that the 60-member Nagaland Assembly has no MLA in the Opposition.

The Congress’ difficulties in the State began after its eight MLAs joined the NPF a year after the 2014 Assembly elections. The Congress not only failed to win any seat in the 2018 and 2023 State polls, but also struggled to find candidates.

Return to the Congress

The party also cut a sorry figure in the Lok Sabha elections after K. Asungba Sangtam became its last MP in 1999. It began to lose leaders and workers, forcing former Minister Kewekhape Therie to quit as the State party president and hand over charge to Mr. Supongmeren Jamir in March 2023.

In fact, Mr. Jamir, too, was among those who left the Congress. He tried his electoral luck on a National People’s Party ticket in 2018, a decade after his only term as a Congress MLA ended, but returned to home base a few years later.

“We hope this will be a new beginning for Congress in Nagaland. The people felt the need for a stronger opposition to save democracy and bail the country out of discriminatory and divisive politics,” Mr. Jamir, a law graduate, said after winning the Nagaland seat.

Poll boycott factor

Leaders of the NDPP admitted that the outcome was a bolt from the blue. “He bucked the trend in Nagaland for the party in power to win the lone Lok Sabha seat. A bit of overconfidence could have been a factor, along with Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra and the non-participation of the ENPO (Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation) in the election, which affected the chances of our candidate,” former Minister Vatsu Meru told The Hindu.

Mr. Jamir polled 4,01,951 votes, which was almost equal to the number of voters who abstained from participating in the Lok Sabha election across 20 Assembly segments in the six districts of eastern Nagaland where the ENPO holds sway.

Some, however, said that Mr. Jamir’s margin of victory could have been even bigger if people in these six districts had voted as they were angry with the BJP-led Union government as well as the Rio-led government in the State for ignoring their demand for the creation of an autonomous Frontier Nagaland Territory.

Declining to go into the ifs and buts, Mr. Jamir simply said that his victory seemed easier than the road ahead – to revive the Congress in the State, almost from scratch. “The people have voted for a change and it is our responsibility now to strengthen the base of the party in Nagaland,” he said.

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