Pratap Vikram Singh | June 14, 2014
Neiphiu Rio is a three-time chief minister of Nagaland. A founding member of the ruling Nagaland People’s Front (NPF), he won the Lok Sabha elections, and resigned as chief minister to take up a larger role in New Delhi. In an interaction with Pratap Vikram Singh, Rio talks about points of contention between his state and the centre and his plans for development of the northeast. Excerpts:
Why did you choose to join the NDA – for ideological reasons or to be with the ruling coalition to promote the welfare of the northeast?
My party has been with NDA since 2003, when Vajpayee visited Kohima for three days. We formed the Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) in our first term. The alliance continued in the second term. We are still partners in the third term. We have one BJP MLA in the present (state) government. Some say the BJP and RSS are communal. (But) Modi-ji has said that this is going to be an inclusive government, which will take all minorities along. So I am comfortable and I trust them.
Oil exploration has been a point of contention between the centre and Nagaland. The state has been demanding that it should have a greater say. Since you have joined the ruling alliance, will you change your stand?
The Nagaland government is very clear about Article 371A. We also understand the government of India’s position. I don’t think there is any clash. There has to be a mutual understanding. The land and natural resources belong to people. The people, the land owners, are not willing to share that land because that is a right conferred by the constitution of India. The tribals have certain rights which cannot be taken away in other states as well. But when it comes to commercial exploitation of a natural resource like oil, then regulatory aspects like taxation and marketing will be dealt by the centre.
What economic potential do you visualise for Nagaland and the northeast? Is there any possibility of the region turning into an energy hub?
The northeast has huge potential. The region can produce enough hydropower for the whole country and there can still be surplus. Also, there are mineral and oil deposits. Besides, we have human capital, which can be a great asset for the country. A significant chunk of the population speaks English. The state has huge eco- and cultural tourism potential. Nagaland has 16 recognised ethnic communities. Every month some festival is going on in one community or the other. So we call Nagaland a ‘state of festivals’. Then there is the Hornbill festival during the first 10 days of December.
I have been to Kohima. Basic amenities like water supply, road and power are in shambles in the state capital, leave the rest of Nagaland. Why?
Nagaland has completed 50 years of statehood. During all these years the resources were spent on dealing with insurgency and Naga political issues. The state and central governments haven’t given sufficient support [to development]. That’s why there is development deficit.
During the NDA regime, the centre had plans to build a four-lane road joining Dimapur, Kohima and Imphal but it was put on the back burner after NDA lost in 2004. I hope this government will show the commitment to revive it.
It is unfortunate that water supply we receive is not sufficient. Twenty-thirty years back the population was just 50,000 and the supply was good enough. Now the population is over one lakh. When we were trying to solve the water problem a land dispute between two communities cropped up. We are looking for sourcing water from an adjoining region. The work has almost been completed.
The state doesn’t have its own resources. The prohibition of liquor and banning of logging – two main revenue sources – had a severe impact. The exploration of oil came to a halt in 1994. We had received royalty of '33 crore for this production.
Is there an alternate arrangement to the demand for a united Nagaland, which has upset other states like Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and ethnic communities?
The secessionist movement started in Nagaland in the 1940s. But in the present situation there is realisation that a geographically united Nagaland is problematic. Originally, the integration issue came up in 1960 in a 16-point agreement in clause 13. The interim government, which ruled between 1960 and 1963, had to resolve all the issues. But nothing happened. We had to inherit the legacy. Now the solution has to come from the government of India. Nagas don’t have a history of enmity. We want to settle differences amicably. The issue has to be settled outside the court.
People are talking about an alternative arrangement. According to the proposed arrangement, whatever privilege protection benefit Nagas are getting in Nagaland should also be extended to Nagas wherever they are.
What are your views on the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act?
It is a bad law. A democratic country like India doesn’t need such laws. This was introduced in 1957 mainly to deal with the Naga insurgency, which was spreading in other areas. You can’t allow the army to arrest, search, interrogate and kill people without warrant. That’s end of democracy. Nagaland has achieved 50 years of statehood. Give them a fair deal, trust them. If you don’t educate the youth, someone else – the underground extremists groups – will use them.
There should be sufficient technical institutions within states and sufficient opportunities for jobs. Students from the northeast go to the mainland to study. But when they come back there are no jobs. Sufficient institutions have to be created so that even the mainland people can come and study in the northeast. It has to be two-way.
Don’t you think the state is equally responsible for the poor state of affairs? Have you sent proposals requesting for funds to GoI?
We have sent requests hundred times. But not once funds have been sanctioned. We have sent proposals for laying railway lines. The project was approved but funds were never sanctioned.
You seem to be a champion of the ‘Look East’ policy to develop links and business with Southeast Asian countries. How do you propose to take this forward?
This policy came quite a long time ago. But there has hardly been any progress. Manmohan Singh released the Vision 2020 document but there is nothing on the ground. We will have to see who all are there around the (proposed link) corridor. It has to go through us (Nagaland and other northeastern states). There should be express highways. How many people can travel by air? Even then it takes two to three days to go to the Naga-inhabited areas in Myanmar, which are just across the border.
The government should set up trade points. We share 500-600 km of the border. On both sides you can find Nagas. India should play a larger role in Myanmar, also because of the increasing influence of China in Myanmar. So far we have just been doing the talking.
Like Jammu and Kashmir, Nagaland too enjoys special status. When there is a debate over article 370, how do you think it will impact the federal structure of the constitution? Should it be done away with?
Well, article 370 talks particularly about Jammu and Kashmir where as article 371A talks about several states including Nagaland. These are two different provisions. On revoking of article 370, I think it depends on the wisdom of the government. India is such a vast country, home to so many ethnic and minority groups. While handling such sensitive issues, we should discuss, deliberate and arrive at a solution acceptable to all. It shouldn’t be imposed.
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