Neiphiu Rio, the chief ministerial candidate of the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) following its alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Nagaland, has sought to allay fears about the emergence of the saffron party in the state. He said that if voted into power, his government will protect the culture and religion of the state's citizens despite the Hindutva-based ideology of the BJP.
His assurance comes days after the Church questioned the BJP's secular credentials and questioned the party's intentions in Nagaland, a Christian-majority state.
The Naga Baptist Church Council had, in an address to political parties last week, said, "We cannot deny that the Hindutva movement in the country has become unprecedentedly strong and invasive in the last few years with the BJP, the political wing of RSS, in power. This fact cannot be denied no matter how hard you try to convince the innocents. You also cannot deny that the party in power at the Centre is working tooth and nail to make its presence known and seen in Nagaland, the frontline Christian-majority state of India. Have you ever seriously questioned their intention? If you have not, do not be fooled."
Rio said that the Church was right in expressing its concerns since it is a contentious issue, but added, "We are only in partnership with BJP; we are not going to change our religion. We would rather fight to protect our rights, as the Constitution clearly says that it is a secular country and persons of all faith can co-exist. We will ensure freedom of faith in Nagaland as mentioned in the Constitution."
When asked if there was an agreement between NDPP and BJP regarding Hindutva, he said, "We have not arrived at an agreement. But I have experimented the relationship with BJP for the last 15 years. We have the required understanding. From the experiment and understanding, I feel that Hindutva will not come in the way. We will work out whatever the problem is, because this relationship is good for the Nagas and and for the country."
Significantly, the NDPP is Rio's second innings as leader of a new party. In 2003, he came up with the Naga People's Front (NPF) and won three consecutive elections. He went on to become chief minister of Nagaland all three times.
In 2014, he won the lone Lok Sabha seat from Nagaland and went on to represent his state in Parliament. In doing so, he had to step down as chief minister and hand over the reigns to his aide TR Zeliang. His relationship with the NPF and Zeliang soon soured, especially after a group of MLAs revolted against Zeliang, and the NPF saw the development as Rio's handiwork.
Just before the Nagaland Assembly polls were announced, he joined the newly floated NDPP and even won the Northern Angami 2 seat since the only other candidate withdrew his nomination. He is campaigning for the party in the state currently as its chief ministerial candidate.
Speaking about the ideological differences between NDPP and NPF he said, "Both are regional parties fighting for the right and identity of the Naga people. Both parties also stand for an amicable solution to the Naga political issue. But to know what the difference is, one has to know why I left NPF and joined NDPP. The former is a divided house and the leaderships in the party and government has not done well. As a result, the Government of India could not trust the leadership of the NPF. That is why BJP has allied with NDPP forgoing its 15-year-long relationship with the NPF, in order to ensure political stability in the state."
Rio has all along been a vocal supporter of the demand for Naga integration, which denotes bringing 'Naga territories' — spread across Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmar — under one political jurisdiction. During his tenure as chief minister, he gained political clout in parts of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh as well.
The demand to integrate the Nagas has been ruled out in the ongoing peace process with Naga insurgent groups which have also been raising the same demand. When asked if he is happy with this development he said, "Though the government has said physical integration of Naga territories is not possible, cultural, political and social integration is required, and both sides to the agreement seem to have agreed with it."
He also called Prime Minister Narendra Modi a "decisive and dynamic statesman", whose name appears among the top-notch world leaders.
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Updated Date: Mar 03, 2018 07:41:28 IST