Other States

It’s Neiphiu Rio finest hour

Neiphiu Rio. File   | Photo Credit: Ritu Raj Konwar

Politics in Nagaland, where underground outfits allegedly run parallel governments, has always revolved around a powerful personality. One was S.C. Jamir, whose 15-year rule as Chief Minister made Congress a force in the State. And along came Neiphiu Rio.

In a State where tribal affiliation is often a factor in politics, Mr. Jamir had Mr. Rio as a protege. The former belongs to the Ao tribe, while the latter is from Angami, the largest ethnic community among the 10 that form the Tenyimia group.

But the two fell out, and Mr. Rio, 67, and his loyalists revived a regional party and named it the Naga People’s Front (NPF) to fight the Congress in 2003. He led the NPF to victory in the 2008 and the 2013 Assembly elections before deciding to move to New Delhi as an MP.

Mr. Rio’s victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha election was more comprehensive than his Assembly wins, but it eventually cost him his political space at home.

Mr. Rio, former colleagues say, nominated his loyalist G. Kaito Aye as the Chief Minister after the Lok Sabha win. But the NPF voted to give T.R. Zeliang the charge.

Mr. Aye won the February 27 election on the Janata Dal(U) ticket.

Loyalists believed Mr. Rao, an “all-weather friend” of the BJP since 2003, would be given a berth in the Narendra Modi Ministry. When it became increasingly clear this would not happen, he tried to be back at the helm in Nagaland.

Mr. Zeliang not only survived a floor test that Mr. Rio’s camp allegedly engineered in February 2015 but also ensured an Opposition-less Assembly.

Rise of Zeliang

The rise of Mr. Zeliang saw Mr. Rio being sidelined. The latter, however, was back after violence over the NPF government’s bid to hold civic polls with 33% quota for women made Mr. Zeliang quit in February 2017. Shurhozelie Liezietsu, the NPF president, was virtually forced out of retirement to replace Mr. Zeliang.

Mr. Zeliang patched up with Mr. Rio to oust Mr. Liezietsu six months later. But Mr. Zeliang and Mr. Liezietsu soon got together to sideline Mr. Rio, who joined the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) that his supporters in the NPF had allegedly floated last year.

The BJP’s decision to ditch the NPF for a pre-poll deal with the NDPP caught many by surprise. But for those aware of personality-based politics in Nagaland, it signalled Mr. Rio’s comeback. The alliance has claimed the support of 32 MLAs in the 60-member Assembly, four more than those of the NPF and its allies.

A post-result drama that saw the NPF and the NDPP engaging in a tug-of-war for the BJP’s support ended on Tuesday with Mr. Zeliang resigning and Nagaland Governor P.B. Acharya proposing to administer the oath of office to Mr. Rio on Thursday.

“We are confident of proving our majority on the floor of the House and giving Nagaland a government that can fulfil the aspirations of the people,” Mr. Rio said.

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Printable version | Mar 9, 2021 5:02:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/its-neiphiu-rio-finest-hour/article22970299.ece

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