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Singh, Sonia, Rahul set to visit Nagaland

New Delhi, Feb. 2: The Congress hopes to turn its fortunes in Nagaland next week as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and newly anointed party vice-president Rahul Gandhi will campaign in the state between February 8-11.

The state will go to the hustings on February 23 along with Meghalaya and the Congress is hoping a blitzkrieg campaign would help it return to power 10 years after the party lost an election dominated by rebel groups and a “Naga nationalist” agenda.

Rahul will kick off the high-profile campaign with a likely visit to Mon and Tuensang on February 8, The Telegraph has learnt. These eastern districts of Nagaland have been traditional bastions of the Congress but have faced setbacks of late.

The next day, the Prime Minister is likely to address a public rally at Kohima where he may be able to make up for the alleged lack of attention by senior leaders.

On February 11, Sonia Gandhi is set to visit Dimapur and Mokokchung, sources said. “This was a tentative schedule drawn up last week. We do not know if there are changes,” one of them said.

After the state Congress announced a likely visit by the Singh, chief minister Neiphiu Rio had asked, “If they (Congress leaders in New Delhi) care for the Nagas, why they didn’t come here in 10 years?”

Singh had visited Nagaland on February 27, 2008 during the previous election campaign. Rahul visited Dimapur a few years ago though.

The last official visit by a Prime Minister was by A.B. Vajpayee in October 2003. With bad weather playing spoilsport for his helicopter, the BJP leader had travelled over 70km by road from Dimapur to Kohima where he had announced introduction of mobile phones in the region.

On the other hand, Singh has visited Manipur on official tours, a comparison Naga leaders often make with the neighbouring state. In Manipur, a Congress-held state, Singh has announced development projects besides assuring that territorial integrity of the state will not be compromised vis-ŕ-vis the demands of the NSCN (Isak-Muivah). It is here that the NPF has an advantage, capitalising on a dragging negotiation between the NSCN (I-M) and the Centre.

A Congress leader in Nagaland hoped to see a mobilisation of support and “re-bonding” that was defined first by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and later by Rajiv Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao.