The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sangma Seventeen back Atal and eye AGP

New Delhi, Jan. 19: The nascent North East People’s Forum (NEPF), comprising as many as 17 parties of the region, today resolved to support the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance and authorised its chairperson and Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio to examine the possibility of joining the coalition.

“We will be holding parleys with the Prime Minister, deputy Prime Minister and NDA convener George Fernandes on this issue. Since this is a platform and not a political party, the individual identities of all parties will be protected,” Rio told the media at Nagaland House after a meeting of the NEPF executive committee.

The NEPF was formed last year at the initiative of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader P.A. Sangma. The only major party, barring the Congress and the Left, not to join the forum was the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP).

Sangma said he was in touch with some AGP leaders and had not lost hope of the regional party joining the forum. “They told me they would take a decision after the election of a new president at the end of this month.”

The NEPF meeting was attended by Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga, Assam BJP president Indramoni Bora, Arunachal Pradesh deputy chief minister Kameng Dolo, Manipur parliamentarian T.. Haokip, Meghalaya BJP legislator A.L. Hek and several BJP leaders from Nagaland, including home minister T.M. Lotha.

However, there were confusing signals from the BJP leaders. The Assam BJP chief said: “The NEPF is not a political party. In case it decides to become one, then we might have to rethink our support.”

Several of the BJP leaders from the Northeast met party president M. Venkaiah Naidu earlier in the day to discuss their relationship with the other constituents of the regional forum.

The BJP leaders feel joining the NEPF might curtail the party’s expanding base in the region. “Our identity could be lost. But we will wait for the high command to give us further instructions,” a BJP legislator said.

The Nagaland home minister, however, allayed apprehension of the BJP distancing itself from the forum. “Differences are unlikely to crop up. It will be a smoothly managed affair and we will make a good impact on the political scenario of the region,” he said.

On his future in the NCP, Sangma said he would decide whether to stay in the party or not after a meeting with Sharad Pawar and V.C. Shukla. They are scheduled to meet in the capital on January 24.

“Our party’s future course of action will be decided soon. It has to be either this way or that way for the NCP. This state of affairs cannot be allowed to linger on for long,” the Lok Sabha MP from Tura constituency of Meghalaya said after a meeting with other members of the party.

“We will once again appeal to Pawar to rethink his strategy of joining hands with the Congress in Maharashtra,” he said.

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