Mon violence: BJP exploring replacing Home Minister Patton in Nagaland?


By Nirendra Dev New Delhi, Dec 11 : Left red-faced by the gory episode in Nagaland wherein native Konyak tribesmen and poor mine workers were killed indiscriminately by the forces, the Centre is exploring certain knee-jerk actions politically. The BJP could ask for replacement of state Home Minister Y. Patton, who is also the Deputy Chief Minister in the Neiphiu Rio-led government. "It will also send a positive signal to the people of Mon district, who are grievously hurt following the killing of locals on December 4 and 5," a source explained. Patton is the BJP legislature party leader and is known for his flamboyant political styles. A senior party legislator among Konyaks is being considered as of now, sources said. Rio is heading the 'opposition-less' NDPP-BJP-NPF regime wherein all 60 MLAs are backing his government. Outside the Assembly of course, there is Congress and other smaller parties like JD(U) and NPP of Conrad Sangma. The Congress party has lost political steam in Nagaland over the years and it stayed away from contest in many constituencies in the 2018 polls for what was said to be fund crunch. Despite its organisational weaknesses, the Congress has a support base in the state -- where it was in power for most years since 1963, when statehood was granted. However, ever since the S.C. Jamir government was voted out in 2003, and the present Chief Minister Rio quit Congress, the grand old party has been left weak and often directionless. If things go by set rules, Nagaland would go for next round of Assembly elections by February 2023 along with two other northeastern states, Meghalaya and Tripura. Though the BJP made deep inroads and captured power in Tripura in 2018, its performance was dismal in Meghalaya. The saffron party won 12 out of 20 seats it contested in Nagaland in alliance with the NDPP of Rio --who fielded candidates in the remaining 40 Assembly segments. BJP's strike rate was better than NDPP, which won only 18 seats. But since then, the NDPP-BJP alliance has seen ups and downs. Now, pressure is being mounted on Chief Minister Rio to do a minor reshuffle. The move is not opposed by Rio in principle, but he wants the BJP high command to take the call for replacement of Deputy Chief Minister Patton. "With the peace process in advanced stage, we are in a season of consensus building," the Chief Minister Rio told a few party confidants. So, NDPP sources suggest -- replacing or dropping Patton should be BJP central leadership's decision. There is a demand that senior legislator from the recent violent-hit Mon district and existing Transport and Civil Aviation Minister Paiwang Konyak be given the job. The BJP sources say, for state level politics, Rio is generally given freehand. Konyaks share ethnicity with Hemi Nagas and other smaller native groups in Myanmar and hence there are possibilities now of a 'revenge reciprocation' to the December 4-5 massacre of Konyaks by the security forces. At one time, rebel NSCN leader S.S. Khaplang was also a Hemi Naga and he had "admirers" in the Indian side of the border. Sources in Delhi are, however, not happy that after the December 4 tragic incident, the violent protest was allowed on December 5 wherein the Assam Rifles camp was vandalised. This 'protest' led to the death of one civilian and also an Assam Rifles personnel in Mon town. Union Home Minister Amit Shah had told the Parliament that six out of eight persons travelling in the ill-fated pick-up vehicle were killed initially. On the first day, total civilian casualties were 13. But the casualty figures later jumped to 15 Naga civilians and one security personnel. "These reflect law and order failure on December 5 and this has left both Nagaland Chief Minister Rio and Deputy CM Patton embarrassed," a source maintained. The Centre is also not happy that a government run by the BJP as a key component is making continuous attack on the central forces in insurgency-hit state. Nagaland Governor Jagdish Mukhi could be submitting his report to the Home Ministry soon. The central agencies have given inputs that Patton was camping in Mon district town since December 4 evening but yet the attack on Assam Rifles camp in Mon took place on December 5. The Oting village where the December 4 firing took place is quite a distance from Mon. Both Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are in the meantime keen for faster progress to the pending Naga peace talks despite major hurdles thrown by the NSCN (Isak-Muivah) faction vis-a-vis Flag and Constitution. These two demands cannot be met by any Indian government worth its salt and especially the one led by Narendra Modi -- which took unprecedented and tough stand in Kashmir. The alliance politics has only added further complexity to the Nagaland peace process and hence the Christmas gift could still be alluding the 'God-fearing' Nagas. (Nirendra Dev is a New Delhi-based journalist. He is also the author of books, 'The Talking Guns: North East India' and 'Modi to Moditva: An Uncensored Truth'. The views expressed are personal) /IANS


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