Nagaland polls: Naga villagers in Assam walk the extra mile to vote

DIMAPUR: Nagas settled in Borlengri-1 village in Assam‘s Karbi Anglong district travel hundreds of kilometres crossing difficult terrain to cast their votes whenever there is an election in Nagaland. As the state prepares to go to the polls on February 27, voters belonging to 750 Naga families of this non-descript hamlet are set to embark on a long journey to reach their ancestral homes in Mon, Mokokchung, Peren, Tuensang and Kiphire districts for exercising their franchise.

While it takes 9 hours to reach Mon located 270 km away, the arduous journey to Kiphire, which is over 310 km from Nagaland’s trading hub Dimapur, takes over 12 hours. Mokokchung, which is 195 km from Dimapur, can be recahed in 8 hours. But these are just the district centres. However, the real trek begins begins after reaching these places.

A village comprising about 2,000 families, Borlengri-1 – located on the outskirts of Nagaland’s commercial hub Dimapur – is one of many settlements like Borlengri-2, Lama Basti and Manipuri Basti in Assam from where Naga villagers travel to far off places in their home state to vote. “First inhabited by Nepalese settlers in the 1930s, Nagas are increasingly flocking to such neighbouring villages in Assam as the cost of land is soaring in Dimapur,” says Joseph, a villager.

But what drives these people to cover such great distance to cast their votes? For most of them, it is cash sent by candidates contesting polls. “Most people go for the money they have received,” says DM Joseph, a teacher at Don Bosco School in Dimapur and a resident of Borlengri. “Money is the worst problem,” rues Joseph, even as he acknowledges youths paying their respect to him as they pass by.

Bendang Chang, chairman of Borlengri-1 village committee, says, “Many people from Borlengri-1 have their names on the voters’ lists in far-off villages in Mon, Mokokchung and Khipire. Candidates contesting the assembly election have sent Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000 per family to get their votes. Apart from this, they are also paid the fare for the journey.”
He adds, “This is the time when many travel to their villages after years and use the money to buy things like sugar, tea leaves, powdered milk and biscuits.” Chang is, however, not sure of the number of voters from his village who would be travelling to cast their vote this time. “There will be many but it is difficult to give the exact number,” he says.

In the village square near the lower primary school, a motley group of people who have gathered near shops selling vegetables, poultry and fish are discussing the brand new smartphone Peter (name changed) has bought. Most of them are sure where the money has come from. “Peter was telling me the other day that they have to go to their village in Mokokchung to cast their votes or else they will be fined by the village council,” adds Joseph.



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