| Atal Bihari Vajpayee talks to Arun Shourie (on the screen) at the launch of the mobile service in Kohima on Monday. Picture by Eastern Projections
Kohima, Oct. 27: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today launched Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL)’s CellOne mobile phone service in Kohima, describing it as one more symbol of change in a state that has come to be known more for its decades-long insurgency than its positive aspects.
“The people of Nagaland have been waiting for this for quite some time. Der aaye durast aaye (better late than never),” he said, flanked by chief minister Neiphiu Rio and Governor Shyamal Datta.
Speaking to Union communications minister Arun Shourie in New Delhi on a mobile phone, the Prime Minister gave the gathering a taste of his trademark sense of humour. He said mobile telephone technology was alien to him, but there was no doubting its usefulness.
“Arunji, I must confess that I do not know how the mobile phone technology works. But I do know that it is all about talking, it is all about connecting people, it is all about removing distances and it is all about making life better,” Vajpayee said.
Shourie confessed he was equally ignorant about such technology. “That makes two of us,” he said. Later, Shourie said, “Nagaland is one of our favourite states. We want to see the creativity of the Naga youth and they can be the pillars of strength of the entire Northeast,” he added.
The Prime Minister next spoke to Rio, sitting beside him, with the same mobile phone. The launch of the service made Kohima only the third state capital in the Northeast, after Guwahati and Shillong, to have this facility.
Rio said Nagaland had long been waiting for mobile telephony and was glad that the Prime Minister inaugurated it. He said BSNL would cover 80 per cent of Kohima during the first phase of the project and the rest of the capital town by November 20.
Shourie had said while talking to Vajpayee — teleconferencing arrangements had been made, too — that 20 district headquarters of the Northeast would have access to mobile phone services by January. He claimed almost all the districts of the region, 72 in all, would be covered by the end of the current fiscal.
On Delhi’s dialogue with the Naga insurgent leadership, Vajpayee said: “Let the talks continue, distances be removed. We will create peace and accelerate development.”
Members of the NSCN (I-M) were present everywhere, complementing the official security arrangements for the Prime Minister. A leader of the militant group said the peace process was progressing well and the Prime Minister’s visit might take it to the next level.
Vajpayee was supposed to arrive by helicopter, but bad weather forced the pilots to return to Dimapur. He later took the road route, entailing a one-and-a-half-hour ride, to the state capital.
Rio sang paeans to the Prime Minister’s resolve to reach Kohima, irrespective of the inclement weather. “With this commitment, love and concern for the Naga people, I think he will do everything for them,” he said.
The chief minister said his government was committed to integrating Naga-inhabited areas of the Northeast and would discuss it with Vajpayee. “You can see the placards that the people are carrying. So many students have come here from Manipur, too.”
Naga Students Federation vice-president Elu Ndang said his organisation had planned a rally today, but decided against it later. “We are only going to welcome him,” he said.
A student held a placard that read: “Eno Atal Bihari Vajpayee, ato kilonser of India (respected Vajpayee, Prime Minister of India), we want integration.”
A Naga Peace Centre delegation will meet the Prime Minister tomorrow to petition him for integration of all Naga-inhabited areas under “a single administrative umbrella”. The team will also make a case for revocation of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.
“A solution to the Naga problem will be found when it can be ensured that all Naga-inhabited areas are integrated and it is made possible for the Naga people to collectively live under one administrative arrangement. This is integral to the solution of the problem and we hope that you will consider this as one of the important factors in the current peace process in Nagaland,” the memorandum says.