Gujarat and Nagaland have few things in common.
For instance, if the state in the western extremity of the country is among the leaders in the economic development indices, its much smaller counterpart on the eastern fringe is a laggard. If the one by the Arabian Sea is seen to be the bastion of Hindutva, the other nestled in the Patkai range is predominantly Christian.
The Lok Sabha elections have, however, thrown up a meeting ground for the two with their incumbent chief ministers also in the contest, albeit for different considerations.
Gujarat’s Narendra Modi, who is in his fourth term as chief minister, could go on to become the Prime Minister if the “wave” he is said to be riding does not break before hitting the shore. Nagaland’s Neiphiu Rio, who is not far behind Modi, serving his third term as chief minister, would be praying the “wave” delivers his counterpart safely on the throne for he is hoping to become a minister in the new dispensation at the Centre.
But while Modi would carry to Delhi his much-touted Gujarat model for replicating across the country, Rio would travel with his bag empty, hoping to get something for Nagaland. Rio wants to give up the chair to take up bigger responsibility for the Naga people at the national level.
The party he heads, the Naga People’s Front (NPF), has supported the UPA through its first and second innings, while allying with the NDA constituents in the state. But, regrets Rio, the UPA hasn’t had much time for Nagaland.
Rio, however, also claims it is not only Nagaland that would occupy his attention but the entire Northeast. He is, after all, convener of the nascent North East Regional Political Forum that comprises the AGP, Hill State People’s Democratic Party (HSPDP), Manipur People’s Party (MPP), Manipur State Congress Party, Mizo National Front (MPF), People’s Party of Arunachal and the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura, among others, and espouses the cause of the region.
Rio became the chief minister of Nagaland in 2003 after his NPF-led DAN won the elections. Before that, he was a senior Congress leader and considered as second to then chief minister S.C. Jamir. He, however, quit the Congress to revive the NPF in 2002. Rio has not looked back since, winning three straight elections, including the one last year, and barely leaving any opposition.
“We could see a history of sorts being made if our chief minister becomes a Union minister,” said Sebastian Zumvu, an NPF general secretary. In its 50 years of existence, Nagaland has had only one minister at the Centre in Jamir. He was, however, a deputy minister.
“Nagaland can certainly hope to get a better deal than it has got so far from the UPA if the NDA returns to power,” he said. Rio could have stayed on in his “comfort zone”, but decided instead to go to Delhi both for the cause of Nagaland and the rest of the region, he added.
Zumvu also said resolution of the “Indo-Naga” political problem would be Rio’s topmost priority.
Talks between the Centre and the NSCN (I-M) have been on for the past 17 years with no official indication in sight of the exercise nearing its goal of arriving at a settlement of the issue that has festered for about six decades.
“We don’t know what’s happening between the two sides, people are in the dark and they want to see an end to this uncertainty sooner rather than later,” Zumvu said.
According to other sources in the NPF, the talks could get a much-needed push if the NDA were to return to power and that is what Rio wishes. “There is a feeling the NDA may be more sincere in taking the initiative to its logical conclusion sooner rather than later,” a source said. Besides resolution of the “Indo-Naga political problem”, the state could also do with a lot more development after being deprived under the UPA, he added.
On his part, Modi is said to have assured the NPF that if the NDA returned to power, “the whole northeastern region will have peaceful atmosphere and maximum development”.
A great deal perhaps would depend on that “wave”.