On the campaign trail with Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio

On the campaign trail with Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio
Northern Angami, Nagaland:  Neiphiu Rio is a man in a tearing hurry these days. As the only star campaigner for his party, the National People's Front , the Nagaland Chief Minister has spent the last twenty days or so hopping from one location to another in his remote north eastern state to campaign for his party's candidates across Nagaland.

NDTV caught up with Mr Rio in his home constituency, the Northern Angami - II, a few kilometres out of Kohima. When we ask the Chief Minister about the lack of infrastructure across the state, including his home constituency, he has a ready answer: "We are doing our best. We had made many roads. But we don't get any maintenance funds. We have done a lot of development and the people know it."

Mr Rio will be hoping that the state's electorate will be kind to his party. The 62-year-old politician is aiming to become Chief Minister for the third time by winning the upcoming assembly elections. After being home minister under the Congress government in the state in the early 2000's, Mr Rio formed a regional party called the Naga People's Front and came to power in 2003 on the back of support from some very unlikely coalition partners, including the BJP. Since then, his party has retained power in the state.

At the village Mr Rio was campaigning in today, he delivers a 30-minute speech in the local dialect and makes at least 10 references to the Naga insurgency and the solution to the problem. Various factions of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland have waged an armed conflict for decades, demanding that Nagaland should expand its boundaries to include other Naga-dominated areas in other states in the region. A ceasefire has been in place in the area since 1997, but no permanent agreement has been signed between the government of India and the insurgent groups.

Mr Rio's take on the issue is that of a seasoned politician. "This regional party, NPF, from the beginning, it is a commitment to find an honourable settlement to the issue. Therefore, in principle, the motto of the party is to find a solution through non-violence," he says.

"I will come back to an absolute majority, and then we have our allies," Mr Rio says when asked about his chances in this election. But not everyone in the crowd that's come to watch him are convinced. "He could have built better roads," says an elderly person. A young girl quips, "He should visit us even when there are no elections."

Mr Rio, who is an accomplished musician, answered a final question on his musical abilities. "Well I am a lover of music and a good singer. But I have lost my voice. Campaigning and giving lecture after lecture. My voice is gone. Another time you come, and I'll sing for you,"  he says before setting off for his next destination.

Story First Published: February 17, 2013 21:53 IST

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