GUWAHATI: A Chief Minister, who virtually swore by the "Naga integration", is now a victim of political convenience. Neiphiu Rio, in the CM's chair in Nagaland, is precariously poised with a slander majority and backed by the BJP.
Following his coalition dharma, last month he had given up on an issue which was a pet of his own for years. "Bringing all Naga-inhabited areas under one single administrative platform will not be possible as it involves other states," Rio was quoted as saying by the media following his meeting with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in New Delhi last month.
He had reportedly also said that although the demand was genuine, it was not feasible to physically integrate the Naga-inhabited areas of the neighbouring states for the creation of a unified Naga homeland. His statement stirred up a hornet's nest back home with opposition parties going for his jugular.
The reaction from the Isak-Muivah faction of major insurgent group National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN-IM) to whom he, in his earlier avatar, was a facilitator and friend, castigated him for the statement. He then promptly disowned it but the damage seemed to have been done.
"The recent irrational and irresponsible statement on Naga territorial integration by Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio is nothing but a direct challenge to the Naga national cause. Who is he to barter the legitimate rights of the Nagas in the open market for personal glory? Whom is he trying to please by surrendering the history and legitimate right of the Nagas? Such a treacherous attempt to enhance personal political ambition at the expense of the Nagas' right is a deliberate insult to the Naga people's sentiment," the NSCN-IM stated in a hard-hitting statement.
More than 20 days since the media reported his New Delhi remark, Rio issued a clarification on Wednesday. He said: ".Upon being asked about the issue of integration by the media in the course of the interview, I only replied as to what was told to us by the Government of India.I had also clearly mentioned that the demand for integration of contiguous Naga-inhabited areas is genuine." Opposition Congress described his alleged changing of colours as "politics of convenience".
"He wants to remain in power with the BJP. He doesn't have his own stand and is being used by others," Nagaland Congress chief K Therie tells The Sunday Standard. The Naga People's Front said: "It is totally wrong on the part of the Chief Minister to declare that Naga integration would be subjected to the agreement of neighbouring states. The statement was made to please his political masters and neighbouring states at the cost of the legitimate right of the Nagas".
A unified Naga homeland or "Greater Nagaland" is a contentious demand of the NSCN-IM, which has been bargaining hard with the Centre since 1997 in the aftermath of their signing of a ceasefire agreement. The outfit envisages a "Greater Nagaland" by slicing off the Naga-inhabited areas of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh and integrating them with Nagaland.
The three states, which have sizeable populations of the Nagas, are opposed to the design. While the NSCN-IM insists on a Greater Nagaland, its rival, the SS Khaplang faction of NSCN, widely known as NSCN-K, is waging a war against India to secure Naga sovereignty. The outfit had been in a ceasefire with the Centre for 14 years until abrogating it unilaterally in 2015 and going back to violent ways.