Four years is a long time in politics

Ninglun Hanghal *

 Nongthongbam Biren (CM Manipur) with Shurhozelie Liezietsu (CM Nagaland) at Imphal :: May 9 2017
Nongthongbam Biren (CM Manipur) with Shurhozelie Liezietsu (CM Nagaland) at Imphal on May 9 2017 :: Pix - DIPR

Within a span of 4 years Nagaland saw 4 chief ministers. Neiphiu Rio until 2014, TR Zeliang until February 2017, Shurhozelie Liezietsu until mid July 2017 and back to TR Zeliang. For the second time TR Zeliang became the chief minister and was sworn in by governor PB Acharya on July 19, when the then CM Shurhozelie Liezietsu didn’t turn up for a ‘strength show’ the day before.

And within 4 years two chief ministers from the Naga People’s Party ( NPF) have been ‘expelled’ from the party. Soon after the sworn in as CM, Zeliang was expelled from the party. It may-be remembered Neiphiu Rio, the three time CM of Nagaland was also expelled from the party in 2016 for “anti-party” activities.

The 4 months old former CM Liezietsu is one of the founding member and party president of the NPF . He is also the chairman of the Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN ) . Earlier called the Nagaland People’s Council (NPC) and later the Nagaland Peoples’ Front and eventually rechristened Naga People’s Front in 2002. Rio and Liezietsu were founding members and leaders of the party. As for Zeliang a four time MLA, was earlier with NPC and later joined Congress and subsequently switch to NPF.

The recent turn of events in Kohima exposed the underlying current in the ruling NPF party and the rift within the Naga People’s Front became evident. In the opposition-less Nagaland state government, NPF alone has 46 MLAs, its alliance BJP has 4 MLAs and 1 JD (U) in the 60 house state assembly. The rest are Independent and which side they swing does not seem to have much importance. Their leaning obviously is on the side of the ruling party.

The number fluctuate within this 4 years. At the time of election in 2013 the NPF has 36 MLA that increase to 46. The BJP that has only one member increases to 4. And now in the latest state of affairs , in the post ousting of Shurhozielie Liezietsu, the NPF further expelled 19 MLAs and suspended 10 others. That will mean NPF has only 17 . Given the fluid situation this number may not necessary be accurate nor likely to remain stable.

Back to early 2017, TR Zeliang was forced to step down as Chief Minister of Nagaland early this year in the aftermath of the crisis that broke out over 33% women’s reservation in local municipal polls that was scheduled to be held in February. At that point of time removing the CM was the only and best option for the NPF led Democratic Alliance of Nagaland ( DAN) government to maintain ‘law and order’ and its grip over its alliance. It was a good move on the part of the NPF leadership in replacing Zeliang with Liezietsu , as Zeliang was at the receiving end of the massive uproar over women’s reservation in the municipal election on the basis of constitution Art 371 (A) .

And Zeliang had to save his face and of course his future voters. Though the implementation of 33% reservation could have prove to be one of its feather for the NPF led DAN government in Nagaland , the repercussion was otherwise. Once the dust of reservation settles, TR Zeliang wants to take back his seat. Perhaps an understanding should have been made among the NPF leadership and between Liezietsu and Zeliang. That there would be an interchange once the dust settle!!.

It could have saved the party of their energy and camping under the flood at Kaziranga sanctuary in the neighboring state of Assam. Moreover it could have saved the legislators, the wrath of the public at large who came out on the streets on July 14 as the dissident legislators led by Zeliang returned home from camping in Kaziranga. Their placard read ““we have elected you, not to live in Craziranga (read Kaziranga) ” and “Dear power mongers respect the electorates sentiments” .

Once he took over, which Liezietsu claim he was invited to be CM, he did not step down easily. As demand for his removal and change of leadership grow louder under Zeliang’s leadership, Liezietsu fought tooth and nail, even sacking 10 of his parliamentary secretaries on July 9. He even went to the court ( Kohima bench) against the Governor’s order for a floor test. Being one of the founder and President of NPF and current chairman of DAN government, he went to the extent of severing ties with its alliance partner – the BJP.

As Liezietsu faces the heat , he assert his control over the NPF. The day after Zeliang was sworn in, besides expelling the CM, the NPF came out strongly against Governor PB Acharya. The Party’s communiqué says it condemns the partisan role played by the Nagaland Governor in installing a Government through backdoor without following the due process of parliamentary norms. The communiqués also question the ulterior motive of the Governor whom it term an RSS pracharak who is sent to fulfill “a mission” in a Christian state.

NPF further recalled that in 2015 the governor did not entertain NPF dissidents’ plea to dismiss the then Zeliang government, who then had the sanction and mandate of the party set up. NPF question the Governor’s move this time , stating “ what extenuating circumstances prompted him to support legislators sans party set up this time round when he did exactly the opposite in 2015”.

Stating that Governor’s true color has emerged the NPF communiqué says that if he has any sense of decency and fair play, he owes to explain to the people of Nagaland and that The Governor should also not gloat over his act of dismissing the NPF-led DAN Government and installing and expelled legislator because this has shown the vindictiveness he harbours.

Zeliang is a frequent visitor to New Delhi. As such he gains the upper hand in terms of “center’s intervention” in crisis. This round, in the hide and seek game Liezietsu lost.

Even as the NPF has a free hand rule with no opposition in the government, the current state assembly term has always been on shaky ground. This came not from rival parties but within the NPF. Zeliang’s earlier chief minister-ship is not without problems or dissidents. It has not been smooth and easy either. He had encounters too.

Soon as Zeliang took over the baton from Nephiu Rio who was elected to the lone Lok Sabha seat from Nagaland in 2014 , Zeliang face a “no confidence” move from his own NPF legislators. About 23 dissidents led by Kaito Aye demanded a change in Chief Minister in January 2015. Zeliang was accused of failing to push for a “final settlement” of the Naga Political issue.

But Zeliang managed to silence his dissidents. He sailed through the no confidence motion and passed the test. Moreover he further strengthens the NPF hold. He virtually made the state government with no opposition left in the assembly with the entire 8 congress legislator supporting him and joining the NPF. Zeliang in the meantime gained the confidence of the BJP in the center. He rode the popularity wave until of course the women’s reservation issue came up in the municipal election.

As heavy weights in the NPF take turns to topple the state assembly and vie for the top job, It is evident now, the party’s imminent split if not decrease in the numerical game. And perhaps this could cost the party dearly in the upcoming 2018 polls.

Former CM Rio has already floated a new party, the Democratic Progressive Party and Zeliang is likely to join in. At the drop of a hat in Nagaland state assembly/ Nagaland politics, Rio have been reportedly flying in from new Delhi. Even as he is in the Lok Sabha, his influence reportedly still matters in Nagaland politics.

Liezietsu will be facing election for the 10-Northern Angami-I Assembly constituency bye election on July 29. It is likely that he will be back as a legislator. More likely is that Liezietsu will give a tough time to Rio – Zeliang Duo and Vice Versa in the coming months. And the upcoming poll is less than ten months from now.

* Ninglun Hanghal wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on July 30, 2017.

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