An Angami woman gifts a traditional warrior stole to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Kohima on Wednesday. Picture by Eastern Projections
Kohima/Shillong, Feb. 27: An electoral adrenaline rush today turned a gentleman Prime Minister into an aggressive vote-seeker, but only for a while.
Manmohan Singh probably took even the Congress’s adversaries in Nagaland by surprise when he used words like “ineffective” and “inefficient” to describe the Nagaland People’s Front (NPF)-led Democratic Alliance of Nagaland, which held power until President’s rule was clamped last month.
“They have tried to divide people on tribal, communal or racial lines. And the result is that in the last five years, Nagaland has missed immense opportunities. It has fallen behind on the road to progress and prosperity. It has not been able to enjoy peace and stability,” he told the crowd at the Kohima playground.
The Prime Minister said a government that failed to ensure security had no right to ask for, let alone get, another term.
The tirade over, Singh slipped back into the statesman’s skin that he is more comfortable in and the country is familiar with. The rest of his speech focused on the development schemes launched and planned by the United Progressive Alliance government.
He skirted the Naga demand for integration of all contiguous areas inhabited by the community, mindful of the uproar in neighbouring Manipur over the Nagaland Congress’s manifesto. The document states that all unfulfilled clauses of the 16-point statehood agreement, including the one pertaining to integration, would get priority.
Singh restricted himself to promising to walk the “extra mile” to facilitate an “honourable solution” to the problem. “We have been engaged in purposeful dialogue with disaffected groups to try and bring about long-lasting peace to Nagaland. We have been open and liberal in our approach and are hopeful that we will succeed in our efforts for an honourable solution.”
He cited the improvement in the road network as one of the success stories of his tenure so far. “I am happy that in the last three years, we have been able to connect 16 new habitations with new roads and upgrade many of the existing roads.”
The Prime Minister went on to highlight how centrally sponsored schemes had benefited Nagaland’s education and health sectors.
A Congress supporter from Kohima village said later that there was more excitement all around about seeing Singh in person than hearing him outline his plans for Nagaland. “We came to see the Prime Minister and we saw him,” he said.
If Kohima saw Singh slightly deviate from the script, he said little that was out of character in Shillong later in the day. A 12-hour bandh declared by the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council kept shops and business establishments closed and vehicles off the road, but the state Congress leadership did not mind as long as the faithful party workers were around.
The Prime Minister was welcomed with a traditional Khasi shawl and a medley of English and Khasi music from local band Adroit. Union tribal affairs minister P.R. Kyndiah and chief minister D.D. Lapang stood in attendance.
“Some extremists called a bandh in Shillong today, notwithstanding the fact that a large crowd is gathered here,” the Prime Minister said.
He then recalled what Sardar Vallabhai Patel once said of Meghalaya. “Your land is a land for Gods to live in. Its air, its natural scenery, its pure atmosphere, its sweet water would attract even gods.”
Since even a “land for gods” needs to bother about mundane things, next came the list of what the Congress could do for Meghalaya. Singh urged the electorate to give his party “a clear majority” so that it could form the next government without bringing multiple allies on board.
The coalition partners of the Congress-led Meghalaya Democratic Alliance recently criticised the party for claiming the credit for everything good that had happened to the state in the past five years.