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The Modi government, in a desperate bid to hold polls in Nagaland, has assured Naga political parties and armed groups that all options are open, including re-elections in Nagaland, whenever an accord is finalised with NSCN(IM) and other Naga groups to end the six decade old imbroglio.
In recent discussions with NSCN factions, government representatives also assured them that their armed fighters may be absorbed in Indian security forces after the final settlement. “This is still under discussion. There are a few options that we are looking at and we have sought an opinion from the rebel groups. One of them is to raise an All Naga Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB) at the disposal of the state but the Centre can help fund and train them,” said a top official involved in the negotiations.
Polls are expected to be held on February 27 in the state and results will be declared on March 3. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to campaign on February 22 while BJP president Amit Shah is slated to visit Nagaland before that, BJP sources said.
Talks became necessary after Naga groups and political parties announced they would boycott polls and called for a “solution before elections”. Sources said back-channel dialogue to break the impasse were on for over a month, and that the filing of over 250 nominations for the polls were a result of these dialogues.
The Core Committee of Nagaland Tribal Hohos and Civil Organisations (CCNTHCO) and 11 political parties, including state BJP leaders (later suspended from the party), on January 29 signed a joint declaration calling for the assembly elections to be “deferred”. While a framework agreement was signed between NSCN(IM) and the Central government in 2015, impatient Naga groups, political parties and NSCN(IM) demanded the Centre should first finalise the accord and then hold polls now.
There are a few options that we are looking at and we have sought an opinion from the rebel groups. One of them is to raise an All Naga Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB) at the disposal of the state but the Centre can help fund and train them
The long and tortuous negotiations that began in 1997 seem to have taken a toll on Naga patience.
Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju refused to elaborate on the talks or the Naga accord that is likely to follow. He said: “There has been extensive lobbying and manoeuvring to get the election process on track.” So it seems the Centre is more keen on holding elections in Nagaland to prove all is normal in Nagaland, accord or no accord.
Rijiju is the minister in-charge of Nagaland and, along with Naga interlocutor R N Ravi, is said to have played a pivotal role to end the stalemate with armed rebels while BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav held discussions with political parties, said officials.
Rumours are agog in Nagaland that the NSCN has video-taped Ram Madhab with two Naga girls in a Kohima hotel and may release the footage on the Internet if the government did not call off the polls. Some rumours also suggest the BJP making desperate offers of big cash to the NSCN to keep the video under the wraps.
Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi has already tweeted, asking PM Modi for an explanation on the murky episode.
BJP leader and Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has threatened to sue those making such allegations about the senior BJP leader but Ram Madhab has not yet reacted. ■