GUWAHATI: Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio has returned to the verdant Naga Hills after spending over three years in political wilderness in Delhi. He took oath as chief minister on March 8 for the fourth time — now under the banner of newly-floated Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP). He must have heaved a sigh of relief when the BJP did not dither from its commitment to the pre-poll seat-sharing alliance the two parties had struck.
Rio trumped predecessor TR Zeliang, who tried his best to stitch up a post-poll alliance of his party, the Naga People’s Front (NPF), with kingmaker BJP.
The NPF emerged as the single largest party bagging 26 of the state’s 60 seats, followed by NDPP, which bagged 18 and its ally BJP, which won from 12 seats.
There were tense moments for Rio as Zeliang refused to resign and reached out to the BJP, hoping to win back the saffron party that had severed its ties with the NPF just before the elections to align itself with the NDPP. But his efforts came to a naught.
In a way, Rio’s political wilderness was of his own making as he left the CM’s seat in 2014 in the hope of becoming a Central minister. He successfully contested the Lok Sabha polls but was cold-shouldered by the NDA. Opposition from some quarters within the BJP in the Northeast as well as other parties saw him denied a ministerial berth in Delhi.
Over the next two years, he tried to return to Nagaland and take the seat that was tightly held by Zeliang. NPF chief Shurhozelie Liezietsu seemed to have such intense dislike for the fellow Angami (tribe) politician that he embraced Zeliang despite the latter having worked to pull down his chair last year.
From 2014, a tussle continued well into 2017 and Nagaland witnessed political instability despite an Opposition-less government. Development works suffered and corruption was at an all-time high, the common man complained.
Rio, who once enjoyed excellent relations within the Atal Behari Vajpayee government and within his own state, was down but certainly not out. In 2017, he engineered the formation of the NDPP while continuing as an MP suspended from the NPF. As the general election neared and a patch-up with the NPF did not work out, he joined the NDPP.
That Rio will change his political colours was known when the NDPP was floated last year. But he delayed the inevitable in the hope of regaining his lost ground in the NPF, a party that he had guided to power for three terms on the trot. But getting increasingly isolated in the NPF for his alleged anti-party activities, he finally defected to the NDPP.
Ahead of his defection in January, the NPF appeared set to sweep the election. But equations changed when Rio managed to wean away BJP from the NPF. The Nagas feel Rio is here to say. Zeliang knows it and that precisely is the reason why he delayed his resignation in a last-ditch attempt to thwart Rio’s crowning.