Nagaland Chief Minister T R Zeliang has kept the door open for what he describes as a “continued alliance” between his party Naga People’s Front (NPF) and the BJP, but has stressed there should be no attempt to dominate issues of culture and religion. Zeliang’s comments, made in an interview to The Indian Express, come at a time when the BJP has chosen to ally with the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) whose face is now Neiphiu Rio, former CM in the NPF government. In another reflection of Nagaland’s fractured politics, two BJP ministers and an adviser remain in the present NPF government.
“You see, as a political party we have an alliance with the BJP, and we welcome the alliance with the NPF in terms of governance system, and to have the government. See, there is no difference between the BJP and the NPF,” Zeliang told The Indian Express on the sidelines of a “election kickoff” rally in Kohima.
“But as far as culture and religion is concerned, if they try to dominate, it is the wrong agenda and is the wrong concept. But as a political party there is no problem to have alliance or to continue the alliance. Only the concept to dominate the religion should not come in, the culture should not be disturbed. If they try to impose on the culture and religion, then things will go wrong. I don’t think they should do that and we believe that our alliance will continue,” Zeliang said.
Zeliang’s comments also come shortly after the Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC) warned citizens and political parties against the rise of the BJP and the imposition of Hindu values in Nagaland, where over 90% of the population is Christian. Speaking at the rally, NPF president Shurozelie Liezietsu, also a former chief minister, referred to the perceived danger extensively, quoting Article 25 of the Constitution that assures every citizen the right to practise their own religion. He also spoke of the Centre’s failure to grant Baptist World Alliance leader Revend Paul Msiza a visa to visit Meghalaya, as well as the murder of Graham Staines. In response, the BJP has condemned the “attempt to play religious politics”, pointing out that each of its candidates is Naga as well as Christian.
Asked what his priorities would be if the NPF was re-elected to power, Zeliang said, “Now we need to rebound the whole education system. For the last 55 years, things have gone wrong. So now we want to rebound the education system, and policing, and healthcare system, water supply system, as well as the road network.”
Zeliang said his first agenda has always been to ensure a solution to the Naga issue. “Till date that was my fist agenda and after I come back to power, will continue to pursue,” he told The Indian Express. “Our first agenda will be to solve the Naga political problem and open the new window for our youth to prosper. Otherwise with this underground [groups], our people cannot progress… If solution comes peace will prevail and that will be permanent peace. When peace is there investors will come and development can take place.”
At the rally, Zeliang focused on the genesis of the NPF as a regional party since 1963 and said it was important that a party representative of local aspirations be voted to power. “Regionalism is a sound political principle for the Northeast people, because we are different in many ways from mainland India, and we need to maintain our unique identity to survive as a people, as a party and as a state in this vast Indian subcontinent. While we are proud to be part of our great nation, we work tirelessly to ensure that the voices of the Nagas are heard, as a party of the people and for the people of Nagaland,” he said.
Rio has begun the NDPP-BJP poll campaign in another kickoff campaign in Mon town with BJP Union minister Kiren Rijiju by his side; he accused the Zeliang government of misgovernance. The CM said, “I don’t foresee an alliance between the NDPP and the NPF. We are glad that he is away from us.”
Zeliang said the only point of difference between the BJP and the NPF was about seat sharing, with the NPF amenable to an “understanding” but refusing to give up seats. “As they (NDPP) knew their size they ran for seat sharing chasing BJP central leaders with an offer of 20, 30, 40 seats, whereas we were asked to share 15 which could not be agreed because it is not practicable in Nagaland politics,” he said in his speech.
Political analysts believe that both the NPF and the NDPP are keen to keep the BJP as an ally because of two primary reasons. “One, they believe that a Naga political solution might be on the anvil, if not now, then definitely before the Lok Sabha elections when the BJP will want to improve its position in the Northeast, and both want to be on the right side of history. Two, it is hard to run away from the fact that over 90% of Nagaland’s revenue is generated from the Centre,” one analyst said.