Are the developments linked to the fate of Naga peace talks or just electoral games ahead of the elections which are due early next year?
The Chief Minister’s Office issued a statement on Friday evening calling the news item carried in a national newspaper as ‘Fake News’. Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio’s party NDPP also issued a statement saying there was no truth in the claims made in the news report.
The Congress lawmakers in parliament are likely to take up the matter in the Standing Committee on Home.
Based on the news report filed by a reporter who covers CBI/ED regularly, Nagaland Congress chief K. Therie and former Chief Minister K.L. Chishi told IANS that Chief Minister Rio – who heads the NDPP-BJP-NPF government – should be dismissed.
The denial by the CMO came after a day on Saturday while NDPP had reacted on Friday itself.
The CMO statement says: “The Media Cell, Chief Minister’s Office Nagaland has issued a press release stating that on 13th October 2022, Amit Mukherjee representing the ‘New Indian Express’ published a fake news item in which it is alleged that the Enforcement Directorate had questioned Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio in connection with ‘the non-existent High Court, etc.’ for several hours in a military facility at Rangapahar in Dimapur”.
“The same news has been circulating through various media and social media platforms. In this regard, it is made explicitly clear that the Chief Minister of Nagaland was never called by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with any matter connected with the High Court,” the CMO said adding: “Action, in accordance with the law, is being initiated against those concerned and those who are responsible for this reckless dissemination of this fake news. And the concerned Department will clarify the other aspects of the news item.”
Meanwhile, the newly-floated Rising People’s Party (RPP), in a statement, said: “The Chief Minister is now a ‘prisoner’ of the BJP and this will have intense ramifications for the state.
Secondly it has come to the notice of the RPP that the ED is also vigorously chasing 10 NDPP sitting MLAs.
Speculation is rife that the ED has built up cases of corruption against the 10 MLAs. According to sources, these 10 MLAs may strike a bargain with the BJP to join the party.
The RPP, headed by Joel Naga, also states that: “It’s not surprising that the ED should interrogate the Chief Minister for 6 hours. This interrogation is not the last and we expect more grilling in the days to come.”
Despite the NDPP table thumbing and their protests that the ED grilling the CM is fake news, there’s no smoke without fire. Firstly, according to newspaper reports the army has declined to comment which means that something is fishy.”
The BJP and the NPF – two allies of Rio in Nagaland – have maintained silence.
Meanwhile, Congress sources told IANS that party MPs and especially members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee are likely to take up the matter. Senior MPs Digvijaya Singh and P. Bhattacharya are two Congress members from Rajya Sabha while party floor leader of Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and Ravneet Singh are also members in the parliamentary panel.
“To be questioned in a corruption is not a crime ….it is only to help the probe,” says a source adding even Rahul Gandhi has been questioned by the ED while in connection to the 2002 Gujarat riots, even then Chief Minister Narendra Modi was questioned for long hours by the SIT.
So, by implications Congress sources say – the plain denial is not necessary. “And even if there is any denial, this does not mean the case related to defalcation does not exist.”
According to charge sheets, 40 people are accused in two cases of No. 6 and No. 7 of 2021 in CBI special court, Imphal (in Manipur which has jurisdiction in Nagaland).
Moreover, the ED has fled five separate cases earlier.
Several issues could be raised and questions remain unanswered. For instance, in other states such probe are given enough publicity and cases are pursued, they done either in the office of the directorate or police stations.
Why was army cantonment chosen, if at all ?
If the denial version is to be taken at face value, it would be very difficult to presume a concerned reporter or a newspaper will have any personal agenda against NDPP or Chief Minister Rio. One argument being Nagaland is not a large state like Uttar Pradesh or Rajasthan.
Essentially now the ball is in the court of the ED and things could be clarified at its level.
The RPP statement seems to make things murkier.
It says even Rio could be persuaded to join BJP formally.
“….given the aggressive pursuance of the case by the ED, the Chief Minister too joining the BJP cannot be ruled out either,” the RPP claims adding the NDPP is in a precarious position and there’s absolutely nothing the party can do anything about it.
The NDPP was floated in December 2017 after Rio developed differences with NPF (his original party) stalwarts Shurhozelie and T.R. Zeliang.
In July this year the BJP entered into an alliance with the NDPP announcing seat sharing in favour of Rio’s party.
Several BJP leaders, including Deputy Chief Minister Y Patton and a number of BJP ‘ticket aspirants’, have urged the central leadership including President J.P. Nadda to review the move as they claim the saffron party is much more popular and can win many seats if it intends to contest at least 30 seats in the 60-member Assembly.
In 2018, the BJP’s strike rate was better as it could win 12 after contesting 20 and NDPP of Rio could win only 18 after contesting 40.
There is another interpretation at the political level. A section of BJP leaders in Delhi feel, it is Chief Minister Rio alone among Naga politicians who can deliver a final solution to Naga peace talks.
The two warring sides NNPG and NSCN-IM are now likely to meet outside Nagaland later this month to hammer out differences and take the peace process to a logical conclusion. Rio reportedly enjoys good working relations with NSCN-IM leader Thuingaleng Muivah.
“Rio’s is a case of a bright student not performing according to his best vis-a-vis peace talks. Is BJP central leadership now being a demanding guardian asking him to score 90 per cent and more to join some technical colleges?” a senior Naga politician said on the condition of anonymity.
(Nirendra Dev is a New Delhi-based journalist. He is also author of books, ‘The Talking Guns: North East India’ and ‘Modi to Moditva: An Uncensored Truth’. Views are personal)
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