The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal peace push with Naga November date

Kohima, July 7: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is slated to visit Nagaland in the first week of November with the aim of bolstering peace initiatives in the state.

Though the Prime Minister’s proposed visit is being touted by the Nagaland BJP as a continuation of the “special attention” Vajpayee was showering on the state, official sources here said it was actually a fire-fighting exercise by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) after its recent peace proposal fell flat on its face.

Both the apex Naga tribal body and the NSCN (I-M) have turned down the proposal of giving de facto power to the Hoho over all Naga-inhabited areas.

New Delhi was charged with taking a “unilateral decision” without discussing the proposal with the concerned parties. The NSCN (I-M) even accused the Centre of playing a “double game” and alleged that it was trying to use the Hoho the way it had used the Naga People’s Convention (NPC) in 1960 to sign the 16-point statehood agreement, sidelining the main contending party, the Naga National Council (NNC) led by A.Z. Phizo.

A success in the peace process with the NSCN (I-M) is crucial for the saffron party as it is planning to make the Prime Minister’s peace initiatives with militant organisations one of its electoral planks for the next general elections.

During his visit to the state, Vajpayee is expected to make some special announcement for the state, official sources here said. The Prime Minister had last month announced a peace bonus of Rs 365 crore for the state.

During his visit, Vajpayee will attend two programmes — one to be organised by the Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) government and another by the state unit of the BJP.

“Vajpayeeji had twice expressed his desire to visit the state after the polls here,” a BJP functionary said. The Prime Minister’s plans were confirmed by chief minister Neiphiu Rio.

The BJP has made a breakthrough in Nagaland by making its entry into the Nagaland Assembly, capturing seven seats in the February election. The party hopes to repeat its performance in the general elections.

During his visit to the state, the Prime Minister is also expected to meet a cross-section of Naga leaders to elicit their views about the ongoing peace process with the NSCN (I-M).

Vajpayee’s visit would coincide with local festivals in November, when many Naga tribes celebrate their traditional festivals to mark the beginning of the harvest season. His visit could be clubbed with a campaign tour of Mizoram, which goes to the polls in November.

The Prime Minister’s visit will be preceded by a trip by minister of state for civil aviation Rajiv Pratap Rudy, who is also the guardian minister for Nagaland.

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