Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on February 20 laid all speculations to rest by declaring that Neiphiu Rio will continue to be his Nagaland counterpart if the BJP and the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) are voted back to power.
The NDPP and BJP repeated the 40:20 seat-sharing deal they had struck ahead of the 2018 Assembly election. Nagaland has a total of 60 seats.
“The strong friendship between the two parties helped us provide the people of Nagaland a stable government for five years. Carrying the friendship forward, we had an agreement that Neiphiu Rio ji will be the Chief Minister again if the BJP and NDPP retain power,” Mr. Sarma said at an election rally in Nagaland’s Wokha district.
He was campaigning for BJP candidate Mmhonlumo Kikon, who is seeking re-election from the Bhandari Assembly constituency.
There have been murmurs that the BJP-NDPP combine may opt for a new Chief Minister if it retains power. A State BJP leader admitted such speculations but said his party has no claimant for the top post.
Mr. Rio, who switched to the Naga People’s Front (NPF) from Congress in 2002, became the Chief Minister for the first time in 2003 and carried on until he decided to step down and contest the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. He won the State’s lone LS seat as the NPF candidate.
T.R. Zeliang replaced him as the Chief Minister of Nagaland.
Mr. Rio, now 72, tried to reclaim the Chief Minister’s chair in 2016 but the NPF cold-shouldered him. Ahead of the 2018 Assembly elections, he joined the NDPP and forged an electoral deal with the BJP, which was the NPF’s ally until then.
Mr. Sarma, who heads the BJP-helmed North East Democratic Alliance, a forum of anti-Congress regional parties, also said the BJP and the NDPP would strive to resolve the protracted Naga political problem if voted to power.
The problem pertains to the peace process between the Centre and several Naga extremist groups since 1997.
“We want a government which will bring development and solution to the Naga political issue. We will try to solve the Naga political problem within the next five years based on the unique Naga political history and uniqueness of the Naga people,” he said.