Kohima, Oct. 28: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today harked back to the past with “sadness” and promised the Nagas a better future, one that would make up for all those years lost in the struggle to be heard.
Sounding almost apologetic, Vajpayee said it pained him to see a state with a “unique history” being deprived of the fruits of development for so long.
“Unfortunately, too much blood was shed in Nagaland in the decades gone by. A lot of people suffered. The wheels of development stopped. Mistakes were committed,” he said during a rally at the Indira Gandhi Stadium in the capital.
The BJP has already made inroads into this Christian state and the Prime Minister tried hard to drive home the point that the Nagas would not regret reposing their faith in the party and the National Democratic Alliance government.
He made no mention of the demand for integration of all Naga-inhabited areas of the Northeast, knowing that neighbouring Manipur would erupt in anger again should he make a commitment on this.
“Now the time has come to leave the sad chapter of conflict and violence behind us. Rather than remaining tied to the past, we have to take care of the present and look to the future,” Vajpayee said.
He announced an economic package of Rs 520 crore, of which Rs 400 crore is meant for construction of a four-lane highway.
The rest is for various schemes, including Rs 50 crore for improvement of roads, Rs 35 crore for the Nagaland University campus at Lumami and Rs 10 crore each for an information technology centre and an agricultural and horticultural processing unit.
The Prime Minister held out hope not just for Nagaland but the whole of the Northeast, saying Delhi would be liberal with funds if the states of the region utilised these properly.
Using his oratory to good effect, he touched a chord while speaking on the “uniqueness” of Naga history. “It is true that, of all states in India, Nagaland has a unique history. We are sensitive to this historical fact. But this uniqueness has in no way diminished the spirit of patriotism among the Naga people,” he said.
Vajpayee hailed the two torchbearers of the freedom movement in the then Naga Hills, Jadunong and Rani Gaidelu, as great patriots and said countless members of the community had followed their example.
“In the critical times of war in 1962, 1965 and 1971, Naga underground organisations did not fire on the Indian army. They showed restraint. I would also like to acknowledge the sacrifices of jawans from Nagaland during the Kargil war. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Kutch to Kohima, the same feeling of unity and responsibility runs through,” the Prime Minister added.
When his turn to speak came, chief minister Neiphiu Rio made no bones about the legitimacy of the Naga demand for integration of all contiguous areas where they are in the majority.
He lauded Delhi for removing the tag of “banned outfit” from the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), saying it had contributed immensely to the creation of an environment of trust and confidence.
“These initiatives have won the hearts of the Naga people,” he added.
Church leader Zhabu Terhuja presided over a prayer session that was held as part of the rally.
Later in the day, the Prime Minister addressed the Nagaland University convocation, which was held at the central secretariat instead of the varsity campus. He connected with the students immediately, reciting poetry and eliciting laughter with his subtle humour.
As the Prime Minister attended one function after another, Manipur continued to be restive, fearing he might make a commitment on integration of contiguous Naga-inhabited areas.
A large delegation of Nagas from Manipur has reportedly already submitted a petition supporting Delhi’s dialogue with the NSCN (I-M) and demanding that all Naga-inhabited areas be brought under one administrative set-up.