The Congress is no longer the force it was in Nagaland, having struggled to field 18 candidates for the Assembly election slated for February 27.
The erosion of the Congress means Nagaland will, for the first time since statehood in 1963, witness a battle of ballots without an “Indian” party offering much of a challenge. This has left the field open for two regional parties, both ironically friends of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The BJP came to Christian-majority Nagaland in 2003 with a handicap — its Hindutva image, which was considered less overt then than now. But it had a friend in the Naga People’s Front (NPF), mainly because both had the Congress as the common enemy.
The past 15 years saw the Congress turning into a pale shadow of itself as the NPF grew in strength to take away all eight Congress MLAs who won the 2013 Assembly election.
The BJP too was reduced to a bit player in the NPF-led Democratic Alliance of Nagaland government.
Without any Opposition, the NPF became its own enemy. In the past five years, the party had four Chief Ministers — Neiphiu Rio, who quit to become the State’s lone Lok Sabha member in 2014, followed by T.R. Zeliang and Shurhozelie Liezietsu and Mr. Zeliang again.
“Development suffered while the NPF leaders were busy hopping from one camp to the other,” State Congress chief Kewekhape Therie said.
Divisions within the NPF began when Mr. Rio allegedly tried to overthrow Mr. Zeliang in a bid to return to State politics. Mr. Zeliang not only survived the 2015 coup but also managed to sideline Mr. Rio.
Resignation and after
Mr. Zeliang had to resign in February 2017 after violent protests over the government’s bid to hold civic polls with 33% quota for women. Mr. Liezietsu replaced him.
Mr. Zeliang patched up with Mr. Rio a few months later to oust Mr. Liezietsu and be back on the Chief Minister’s chair. But they fell out again, and Mr. Rio joined the Nationalist Democratic People’s Party (NDPP) that his supporters in the NPF had formed.
A few days ago, the BJP and NDPP announced an electoral alliance leaving the ally NPF in the cold. “Our alliance with NDPP is strategic but our friendship with NPF stays,” Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju said.
The NPF is one of the members of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) that the BJP formed in 2016.
“The BJP-NDPP [20:40] seat arrangement is impractical,” Mr. Zeliang said campaigning in Tuensang, indicating that the BJP might have to return to “old friends” after the election.
But the NPF is aware of the anti-incumbency factor that weighs heavily against it, primarily because of lack of development — Nagaland’s roads are almost dirt tracks and health and education sectors are in a shambles — and failure to find a solution to the Naga peace process.
Mr. Rio, having won the Northern Angami-II seat unopposed, is confident that the BJP-NDPP will form the next government.