| Performers at the Hornbill Festival in Kohima on Tuesday. Picture by UB Photos |
Kohima, Dec. 3: Nagaland laid out the red carpet for President Pranab Mukherjee and other central leaders at the Hornbill Festival this week as the state battled financial crisis and chief minister Neiphiu Rio weighed his political options for next year’s general elections.
It’s the 50th anniversary of the state but the Centre has not increased Nagaland’s plan size and Rio is struggling to pay salaries to government employees. While the crisis was not reflected in the hospitality arranged for the VIPs, it was reflected in the fact that many locals skipped the 10-day extravaganza.
The state government has organised a Hornbill charity ball tomorrow for victims of the Philippines typhoon and there are few takers for the tickets that cost Rs 5,000.
At the inauguration of the annual festival on Sunday, the President was showered with traditional Naga gifts and Rio dropped a hint: “You are a friend who we can approach in times of trouble”.
The President, attired in a Naga headdress and spear, was called “our new Naga warrior” by the event anchor.
In his address, the President asked the state and the Centre to work together. The chief minister, who now heads a forum of regional leaders of the Northeast, even accompanied Mukherjee in the chopper from Kohima to see him off at Dimapur airport.
DoNER minister Paban Singh Ghatowar was the second recipient of what many claimed was the highest standard of Naga hospitality yesterday. Rio is often seen as a regional leader because of his affiliations with regional leaders from other states and it is unlikely that the two leaders did not talk politics.
At Viswema, a village 20km south of Kohima, traditionally attired men, women and children gathered for a traditional stone-pulling ceremony. The programme host announced that only rare guests received such an honour. The fare was rich and exotic: hornets and red worms along with pork and meat prepared by the best chefs in the village. Ghatowar, sources said, was impressed.
Nagaland’s woes result from the fact that the Planning Commission reduced the state’s funding this year because of unsatisfactory fiscal discipline. As a result, the state missed the opportunity to get a Rs 600 crore increment in its annual plan size. Another Rs 300 crore, set aside by the Centre for the eastern districts of Mon, Tuesang, Kiphire and Longleng, have also been withheld. Many teachers employed under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan have not received salaries for three months as the Centre has held back funds because of the state’s non-payment of its share.
Officials here conceded that the government hoped that Mukherjee and the central ministers would be able to convince finance minister P. Chidambaram to release the withheld funds amounting to several hundred crores.
Rio’s hospitality and perhaps the presence of central leaders also carried a political undertone in the run-up to the 2014 general elections. Rio, a former Congressman who defeated S.C. Jamir, is a favourite with many Congress leaders even today.
The BJP claims to be by the Nagaland chief minister’s side, and, in a tightly fought battle next year, Rio could play a major role in lending support from regional fronts in the Northeast to a coalition at the Centre.
In October, Rio had met BJP president Rajnath Singh. There are whispers that Rio has also met BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi at least once.
Enough probably to make the UPA think twice about Nagaland government’s empty treasury.