GUWAHATI: In the race for the chief minister’s chair, former Nagaland CM Neiphiu Rio has managed to bring more than 40 of the 60 MLAs in the state to his side but the rival camp in his Naga People’s Front (NPF) claimed that the party was still “intact” and that nothing would go wrong since “we still hold the trump card.”
A Tamil Nadu-like drama unfolded in the state when a whole bunch of the ruling party MLAs sneaked out of the state and lodged in some resorts in the wildlife reserve of Kaziranga in Assam on Friday night.
The development followed a purported patch up between chief minister T R Zeliang and Rio, who is set to take over as the CM as part of a deal struck in New Delhi with the mediation of BJP. NPF is an ally of BJP and both are constituents of ruling Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN). Rio on Saturday reached Nagaland but Zeliang was still in Delhi.
On Wednesday night, 42 MLAs--33 of them from NPF--had thrown their weight behind NPF president Shurhozelie Liezietsu for chief minister. Hours later on Thursday morning, Zeliang and Governor P B Acharya rushed to Delhi. Despite the governor’s absence, the DAN legislature party on Friday submitted a letter to Raj Bhavan in Kohima, in support of the MLAs for Liezietsu to be the next CM.
Left to lick his wounds following the dramatic turn of events, Liezietsu on Saturday comforted his party functionaries saying that “nothing could go wrong since the party organisation is intact”.
“Some of our legislators have gone to Kaziranga but they are still NPF legislators and we are in touch with many of them,” he said. He claimed that “changes in our favour will take place in a day or two.”
The NPF claimed the present Kaziranga episode would “flop like the failed coup” of 2015 when majority of NPF MLAs were compelled to return to party-fold. Last year, Rio and some NPF MLAs were suspended by the party in the wake of a rebellion against Zeliang.
Borgos is one of the resorts where the MLAs who are loyal to Rio, are lodged. Calls made to two ministers repeatedly on Saturday went unanswered. A staff of the resort said the MLAs booked 11 rooms and most of these were shared by them. He said they would stay there for a day or two. Rio was scheduled to visit the resort on Saturday night.
Hailing from the Zeliang Naga tribe, T R Zeliang had started as a minister in the state and rose to be a Rajya Sabha member. In 2014, when the then CM Rio chose to go to Parliament and vacated the CM’s position, Zeliang took over. When Rio wanted his chair back upon being denied a ministerial berth in Delhi, the doors back home were closed.
Many in the ruling dispensation have sniffed Rio’s hand in the ongoing social unrest in the state, triggered by Zeliang government’s decision to go ahead with civic polls with 33 per cent reservation for women despite protests by some tribal organisations.