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NE front to back NDA
- Rio seeks plum berth
- Ready for counting today

New Delhi, May 15: The North East Regional Political Parties Front (NERPF) has requested a “prominent” cabinet berth for its chief and Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio, iterating its support for the BJP-led NDA on the eve of counting for Lok Sabha polls.

In a letter today to BJP president Rajnath Singh and the party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, the front has made a firm plea for a cabinet berth. Rio, however, is not likely to accept the “toothless” ministry of development of north eastern region (DoNER).

“We request the NERPF chief and Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio be accommodated in the Union government as the seniormost minister from the Northeast in the cabinet with a prominent and important portfolio,” the letter said.

While the front had declared support for the NDA in March, they empowered Rio on Tuesday to take decisions as the “tallest and most popular leader of northeastern region”. Since major leaders including the NPP chief and former Lok Sabha Speaker P.A. Sangma and the AGP are part of the front, the BJP may sit up and take notice in case it is unable to stand up on its own to form the next government. Sangma joined the front on Tuesday.

The front’s unwillingness to accept the DoNER ministry is rooted in the impression that the portfolio is no better than “crumbs” for MPs from the region. “We hope the BJP will re-jig the DoNER ministry which has been destroyed by the UPA government,” alleged a Rio aide.

During UPA-II, the Congress included Bijoy Krishna Handique in the cabinet as DoNER minister, upgrading the stature of the ministry. However, he was dropped owing to health problems and his successor Paban Singh Ghatowar was not included in the cabinet.

“The DoNER minister, who chairs the North Eastern Council (NEC), is a junior minister, while many council members enjoy cabinet rank. This is an anomaly,” said a front member.

Rio is camping in New Delhi on the eve of the election results. On the other hand, a front team is in touch with senior BJP leaders including Modi and Rajnath, while another team is in touch with sections of the RSS. Sources said the front had an aide in Gandhinagar, too, to push for a firm alliance that could ensure commensurate political gains in case the BJP wins.

As the only chief minister other than Modi who is willing to get out of the state for a “larger role” at the Centre, Rio has his gameplan laid out well, according to insiders. His party, the Naga People’s Front, had been part of the NDA earlier.

With the power he wishes to wield as cabinet minister, Rio is intent on addressing an issue closer home — resolution of the Naga political problem on a priority basis.

The AGP, which did not enter into an alliance with the BJP, is also likely to join the NDA through the front. Atul Bora, AGP leader and co-convener of the front, met Rio today.