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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2737

Dr. SC Jamir – a great Naga politician, indeed

By Oken Jeet Sandham

I was privileged to have interviewed Dr. SC Jamir exclusively on many occasions when he was Chief Minister of Nagaland. What I had found one very rare and unique political character in him when he was Chief Minister of Nagaland was – he is one of the greatest politicians the Nagas have produced so far.

He is unique, so rare and par excellence. There were a lot of allegations that he paid Rs 10 crore to then Commander-in-Chief of the NSCN (IM), Gen VS Atem before the 1998 Nagaland Assembly Elections. One of my most memorable interviews to him was soon after 1998 Nagaland General Elections where all the political parties including BJP boycotted elections in Nagaland and that was how Congress led by Jamir had a walkover and for the next five years, he ran his Government without Opposition. This most memorable interview was that I asked him on his face, “Did you pay Rs 10 crore to Atem as alleged.” “I have met Atem (Gen VS Atem, Commander-in-Chief of the NSCN-IM) but I have not paid anything to him,” he replied to me.

Of course, one Independent MLA Mavil Kheiya, performed as a single Opposition throughout. One remarkable and magnanimity of Jamir was he had shown his political maturity by giving respect to that single Opposition Member. So it was so lively that Jamir, at the end of any debates or discussions, gave his reply to that single Opposition Member, Mavil.

Jamir was one of the signatories of the 16-Point Agreement which led to the birth of the present State of Nagaland in 1963 as the 16th State of the Indian Union.

He is the lone survivor from the signatories of the 16-Point Agreement. He was first elected to the Nagaland Legislative Assembly from 25-Mongoya Assembly Constituency in the by-election in September 1971. He was reelected in the 3rd General Election held in 1974 from 26-Aonglenden Assembly Constituency and subsequently became Deputy Chief Minister in the UDF Ministry. He, however, resigned from the Regional Party and joined Indian National Congress (I) in 1979. He became Chief Minister for the first time in 1980. For the 2nd time, he became Chief Minister from 1982 till October 1986. For the 3rd time, he became Chief Minister on January 25, 1989. For the 4th time, he became Chief Minister on 22nd February 1993 and completed the tenure of five years. For the 5th time, he became Chief Minister on March 5, 1998, and completed the tenure of five years.

It may be mentioned that the Government of India’s ceasefires with the NSCN (IM) in 1997 and later with NSCN (K) in 2001 took place when Jamir was Chief Minister.

He sustained bullet injury when four armed assailants fired at close range at Nagaland House, New Delhi. He had another providential escape for the fourth time while his motorcade was ambushed near Piphema on way to Kohima from Dimapur on 29th November, 1999.

In a significant gesture, Jamir announced unconditional forgiveness to the assailants who twice attempted on his life. He also announced his Government’s decision in 2002 to withdraw arrest warrants against NSCN (I-M) leaders Issac Chishi Swu and and Thuingaleng Muivah to enable them to visit the country. "We have already written to the Union Home ministry and I have already announced my government's decision about it (withdrawal of cases) ...

It is now up to them (NSCN - IM) leaders whether they want to hold talks in the country or elsewhere," Jamir told the press in May 2002 at Kohima. This would help the NSCN (I-M) to carry forward the political negotiations for an amicable settlement to the protracted Naga problem, the chief minister said.

Jamir demitted office in 2003 as Nagaland People’s Front (now Naga People’s Front) led Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) had defeated his Congress Party. Neiphiu Rio, his one-time loyalist, and right-hand man could successfully oust him in 2003 Nagaland General Elections.

Hours before resigning as Chief Minister of Nagaland in the aftermath of NPF-led DAN’s ousting his Congress Party in 2003 Assembly Elections, he sarcastically said that he and their Congress Party had very peculiar electoral fights this time. “We fought an election against NSCN (IM) and not with any political parties this time 2003 Nagaland Assembly Elections,” he said. “I wish them (NSCN (IM) to join Indian politics and fight normally like other political parties.”

I once asked Jamir when he was Chief Minister whether he was aware that his Home Minister (Nephiu Rio) would pose a great threat to his leadership and possibly throw him out of power soon. “I knew it,” he responded to me. “He is a good administrator.”

Then Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh had done a befitting tribute to Jamir by appointing him as Governor of Goa and later as Governor of Maharashtra. He is currently the Governor of Odisha. His uniqueness still remains as all the Congress Government appointed Governors across the country had been removed when BJP’s Narendra Modi came to power at the Center, Jamir survived.

You may like or you may hate Jamir but no Naga politician is born yet to match him till today. When he published his “Autobiography – A Naga’s Quest For Fulfillment,” he sent me two copies with a lovely note from the Raj Bhavan Bhubaneshwar. I love you, Uncle Jamir. I wish you and aunty a Very Happy and Prosperous New Year 2017.

- Asian Tribune -

Author (Oken Jeet Sandham) with Dr. SC Jamir at his Chief Ministerial residence, Kohima in 1996.
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