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2017, role in politics in Manipur

Oinam Sunil, Feb 24, 2017: The Times of India

Deputy CM Gaikhangam, Congress's senior-most Naga politico in Manipur, is more popular in Imphal Valley than in the state's Naga-inhabited districts. That is because many Nagas see him as CM Okram Ibobi Singh's closest associate and hold him equally responsible for carving new districts that triggered the United Naga Council's (UNC) economic blockade.

The 66-year-old, Manipur's tallest Naga neta whom voters have returned to power six times, is today the only link between the state government and the Nagas.

But his clear stand on protecting the state's territorial integrity and unity has made him the politician facing the maximum pressure and threats. He not only opposes Naga outfit NSCN (I-M), but has also spoken out against the UNC blockade. On Tuesday morning, rebels ambushed his security escorts at two spots near his ancestral village of Khoupum.

Hated by Naga militants, the deputy CM is popular with the Meitis. Though a Christian, Gaikhangam frequents Imphal's Iskcon Temple and visited Nabadwip in Bengal in 2015 for Rajshree Raja Bheigyachandra Singh's death anniversary . He'd sported a dhoti and kurta then -possibly the first Naga leader to do so. Naga militants got even more upset with him after he became vocal against the framework against the framewor agreement and the block ade. “I speak the truth and I face tremendous pressure. There are only guns in the hills but I will still campaign there,“ he told TOI at his official residence in Imphal's high-security Babupara VVIP colony.

Gaikhangam concedes division between the hills and the valley has been growing. The hills are inhabited by the Naga, Kuki, Paite, Zomi and Hmar tribes -predominantly Christian, while Vaishnavite Meiteis and Meitei Muslims live in the valley . “A handful are trying to widen the gap. We have deal with this tactfully,“ he said. NSCN (I-M) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah, a Tangkhul Naga from Manipur's Ukhrul, wants all Naga-inhabited areas of the northeast in tegrated. Gaikhangam, a Zeliangrong Naga from Noney , feels strongly about safeguarding the state's territorial integrity and unity .

Gaikhangam has represented the Nungba assembly seat since 1980, winning six elections -in 1980, 1984, 1990, 2002, 2007 and 2012. He lost two: in 1995 and 2000.He says he wants “a transparent solution to Naga insurgency“, but before he achieves that though, he will need to win Nungba again, where senior saffron netas from outside the state are out in force canvassing for BJP's nominee Adim Pamei.

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