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Rio bid to rope in Goswami
- Forum leaders decide to approach AGP president again

Guwahati, Feb. 20: In a bid to strengthen the non-Congress alliance in the region for the Lok Sabha election, Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio will request Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) president Brindaban Goswami to join the North East People’s Forum (NEPF).

At an informal meeting at Nagaland House here, former Lok Sabha Speaker and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Purno A. Sangma, Rio and other leaders of the forum decided to approach the AGP leader tomorrow.

The forum, a conglomeration of over a dozen regional parties of the Northeast, is part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.

Rio said he hoped the AGP would join the alliance despite Goswami turning down a similar request made earlier.

The AGP had rejected several invitations by the forum, saying it would maintain equidistance from the BJP and the Congress. The party had charged the conglomeration with hijacking its regional agenda.

Sources said several senior AGP leaders today called on the Nagaland chief minister, who is also the forum’s convener, to discuss the modalities of joining the alliance.

Unlike in the 2001 Assembly elections in Assam, the BJP has said it would not strike any alliance with the AGP. However, Rio was hopeful that “we will be working together in the elections. It is too early to confirm whether the BJP and the AGP will contest the elections alone”.

The forum’s meeting was called within hours of the AGP’s executive convention here to chalk out its election strategy. The party, however, failed to take a decision against any pre-poll tie-up in view of “the overwhelming desire of many leaders that the Congress must be defeated at any cost”, a source said.

The meeting, attended by former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, entrusted Goswami with the responsibility of taking a decision after considering the “changing political equation.”

“As of now, we are thinking of contesting all the 14 seats in the state on our own. But the party president may change the decision because of the fast-changing political scenario,” senior AGP leader Jagadish Bhuyan said.

That the party was in two minds could be gauged from the executive meeting’s resolve not to compromise its regional identity while some leaders visited Rio to discuss an alliance.

Bhuyan said the party would kick off its election campaign with Goswami launching a Sadbhabna Yatra from Sadiya to Dhubri in the first week of March. The AGP has formed state to booth-level committees to oversee the campaign, highlighting the party’s regional identity and Goswami’s clean image.

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