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Amid oil exploration row, Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio meets Amit Shah

May 24, 2023

By : Sentinel Digital Desk

| 6 Aug 2023 3:35 AM GMT

NEW DELHI: Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, along with Deputy Chief Minister T.R. Zeliang and state BJP president Temjen Imna Along, called on Union Home Minister Amit Shah here and discussed what is given out as governance issues.

"We apprised him on the plans and initiatives for the development of Nagaland. Grateful to him for his continued support and visionary leadership," Rio tweeted.

The Chief Minister heads the regional Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) and has been a trusted BJP ally for the last two decades.

The NDPP-led regime has BJP ministers in the cabinet as well. Temjen Imna Along is also the Minister for Tourism and Higher Education.

The meeting assumes significance as it comes against the backdrop of snail-paced or even zero progress at the Naga peace talks since 2019.

The NNPG, an influential conglomeration of seven militant groups, was keen for the early completion of dialogue and the signing of a peace pact.

But largely owing to NSCN-IM's stance over a separate Naga flag and Constitution, the talks are at a standstill, notwithstanding much pressure built up for the same from Naga civil society, including the Gaon Burrah (Village Elders') Federation and the Nagaland Tribes Council.

Now, the NNPG, led by mercurial N. Kitovi Zhimomi, is in an aggressive mood, and some of its anguish is falling on the Rio regime, which has been more than once accused of not doing enough to pursue the NSCN-IM to see reason and sign the peace pact.

In a strongly worded statement earlier this week, the NNPG stated that Rio has "opted to hang onto the Chief Minister chair, foregoing greater responsibility".

"Today, rather than facilitating an early honourable and acceptable agreement based on the negotiated terms, the state government has once again formed a committee to look into the feasibility of oil exploration with the state's constitutional head, the Governor, as a member."

This, the NNPG claims, is "against the spirit" of Indo-Naga political negotiations and agreed terms.

Such a move from the state government is also against the "spirit of Article 371 (A)", the NNPG says.

"All man-made resources in Nagaland have been short-circuited and diverted into their own pockets. Nagaland is the state with the biggest begging bowl. It is morally and ethically wrong to sell the untapped wealth of the people for further self-aggrandisement, which is why it is unacceptable," said the NNPG statement published widely in local newspapers.

The conglomeration further alleged that "a group of vultures are now hovering over the underground wealth of Naga people. Visionless profiteers and wanton politicians cannot repair Nagaland".

It has urged all Naga tribes to "oppose tooth and nail all attempts to conduct oil exploration in Nagaland".

The NNPG also said that pending an Indo-Naga political solution, all Core Committees or special or high-powered teams must be abolished.

"Venturing into a negotiated domain already agreed in principle between negotiating entities is too dangerous," it warned.

Sources declined to divulge what really transpired at the meeting with the Home Minister.

In May, even as oil companies were reportedly taking steps to 'restart oil exploration' in Nagaland after three decades, the NSCN-IM stated that unless an honourable political settlement between the Nagas and the government of India is reached, no exploration of oil and natural gas in Naga territories in any form shall be allowed.

The Rio government's problems are 'not joining issues' with the militant groups. It has administrative and political compulsions as the state is reeling under an immense financial crisis.

"We are part of the NDA, and even BJP ministers are there in the government, yet the bitter truth is there is a financial crisis," a source said on the condition of anonymity.

"The financial crisis is a reality. Chief Minister Rio cannot run away from this. Nagaland is saddled with a huge debt crisis of around Rs 16,000 crore, whereas the state's own revenue remained at around Rs 650 crore," senior Congress leader Kewekhape Therie told IANS.

With 41.16 percent of the total budget being spent on salaries and wages of government employees, Rio, in his Budget for 2023-24, also revealed his government's plan to gradually "scale down" the number of government employees.

Often, reports surface that many departments are unable to pay salaries on time. In other words, Rio remains helpless and has to explore other avenues of revenue generation.

Rio has also come under attack for not doing enough and not speaking much about the ongoing ethnic strife in Manipur. This has become imperative and quite a serious issue as Manipur also houses a substantial number of Nagas in the hills.

"The NNPG believes Nagaland's CM has a role to play. He must express and convey the collective condemnation of all parents and children of Nagaland on horrific scenes in the daily news and social media. The people expect from their Chief Minister a strong stand against violent communal forces," the influential organisation said.

Rio must be vocal and partner with secular voices in restoring peace and harmony in Manipur.

During his stay, Rio and his colleagues also met BJP national president J.P. Nadda.

The BJP central leadership is mulling replacing Temjen as the state president, essentially to follow the party's cherished 'one man, one post' formula.

Even otherwise, Temjen's performance as state unit chief has been somewhat lacklustre. (IANS)

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