Toughest road ahead for Rio

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Oken Jeet Sandham

NOBODY thought the ruling Naga People’s Front would wrest 38 seats in a house of 60 in the just concluded 12th Nagaland Assembly elections held on 23 March. The once powerful Congress suffered a humiliating defeat, getting just eight seats. The NPF-led Democratic Alliance of Nagaland came to power in 2003, overthrowing a most powerful SC Jamir Congress ministry.

The Naga political issue was always central for all the parties and their candidates during electioneering to woo the electorate; besides, they would prominently place it as one of the agendas in their election manifestos. Also, the Naga people would give their attention and concern to this, asking all the political parties to spell out their agenda towards finding a solution to the Naga issue and sometimes they would even urge them to come up with a timeframe. The BJP even went to the extent of giving a timeframe solution to the protracted Naga political issue if it was voted to power.

In spite of all these gimmicks, the electorate in Nagaland has proven to be more mature, not taken in by all this rhetoric. They formed their own judgment and chose not to connect the state elections with that of the Naga political issue. They knew very well that Neiphiu Rio had ruled the state for the last 10 years and what he did and how much he did towards finding a solution to this issue.

Nagaland voters wanted a government that could deliver the goods. They had, perhaps, realised that even if the protracted Naga political issue was resolved, there would hardly be any changes. Having seen 16 years of the peace process between the government of India and NSCN(IM) leaders and the last 10 years of Rio’s rule, they seemed educated enough about the pros and cons and the would-be outcome of the Naga issue. Therefore, it would not be entirely correct to describe Rio’s being voted to power for the third term as having something to do with the Naga political issue. One thing Nagas could see in him was that he could bring about more development in the state. They could understand that there could be no alternative to Rio’s Dan ministry, at least this time. They could not see the Congress being able to run affairs, given the party’s record of disorganisation.

Rio, after being re-elected chief minister for a record third term, has set his agenda to especially restrengthen his Dan ministry’s approach towards finding a solution to the Naga political issue. While presenting his vote-on-account on 16 March in the state assembly, he reiterated that the Naga issue was at the top of his government’s agenda and promised that his government would play the role of facilitator in the longstanding peace process. He said his ministry was committed to step down and pave the way for any alternative arrangement that may come about through a negotiated political settlement that was “honourable and acceptable to the people”.

Although Rio commands brute majority in Nagaland, he faces a very typical threat — not from the opposition but from within the NPF. Within hours of the swearing in of the new cabinet ministers and parliamentary secretaries, protests broke out by their supporters over the allocation of portfolios. Many NPF legislators expressed serious discontent at not having been inducted into the new cabinet.

Within hours, Rio was forced to swap portfolios between two seniors cabinet ministers and had to allocate additional portfolios to appease the agitated parliamentary secretaries.

Whether or not he is committed to according top priority to the Naga political issue this time, it is not possible for him to concentrate on it for as long as there is no cohesion within the NPF. This time, the BJP and JD(U) won a seat each, and the strength of Dan-III is 40 in a house of 60. As yet, nobody is interested in whether Rio’s ministry will be stable or not, or even whether a solution to the Naga issue will come about or not; they are more concerned about development and employment in the state. And Rio knows this. The NPF legislators are likely to be his main hurdle.

Originally Published at : The Statesman (http://thestatesman.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=449965&catid=52)

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