GUWAHATI: The political scenario in poll-bound Nagaland changed overnight after the state’s lone Lok Sabha member, Neiphiu Rio, switched sides from ruling Naga People’s Front (NPF) to the newly-floated Nagaland Democratic People’s Party (NDPP) recently.
From what appeared to be a contest between NPF and Opposition Congress in the February 27 elections, the state now braces for a fight between two regional entities — NPF and NDPP.
Both NPF and NDPP are now trying to align with BJP for political convenience. In fact, NPF was in alliance with BJP until severing the ties last year after Governor P B Acharya dismissed Liezietsu’s minority government. At its January 23 central executive committee meeting, NPF asserted that the party was open to alliance with BJP. The same day, Rio left for Delhi for alliance talks with BJP leaders.
As of now, BJP is non-committal. It is expected to take a call after weighing the poll prospects of the two parties. Speculations are rife that a dozen NPF MLAs will resign in the coming days and may join NDPP and BJP. If that happens, NPF’s bid to retain power will further diminish.
Given Rio’s influence over 10 tribes, there is a perception that the NDPP could give the NPF a run for its money in the polls. Instability, as well as alleged corruption and anti-incumbency, are likely to hurt the NPF this time.
Rio’s defection to NDPP is not entirely unexpected. The party came into existence in 2017 at a time when Rio was increasingly being isolated in the NPF.
During last year’s power struggle between incumbent CM T R Zeliang and former CM Shurhozelie Liezietsu, who is also the NPF chief, Rio and a dozen MLAs loyal to him had sided with Zeliang. But Rio’s alleged attempt to emerge as the CM candidate saw him falling out of favour with Zeliang, who reconciled with his bete noire Liezietsu in a bid to stave off the threat emerging from Rio. Cornered yet again in the NPF, Rio embraced the NDPP.