By Aishwarya Mukhopadhyay
The situation is tense in Nagaland as former CM T.R. Zeliang of the Nagaland People’s Front (NPF) has staked the claim for the chair of CM. This is an attempt to oust the incumbent CM, Dr Shurhozelie Liezietsu. The crisis has worsened with Liezietsu, the head of NPF suspending Zeliang and nine MLAs for “anti-party activities”.
Background to the battle
NPF, BJP and JD(U) constitute the Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) which has been ruling Nagaland since 2003. Zeliang took over as CM in 2014 and was succeeded by Liezietsu in 2017. The party president Liezietsu did not contest the 2013 state assembly elections and remained the Chairman of DAN. In his place, his son Khriehu Liezietsu had successfully run for his father’s seat to become the MLA of the Northern-Angami-(I) constituency.
Zeliang had to resign from his post owing to violent protests against 33% reservation for women in the urban local body elections. The tribesmen protested they felt that the reservations were against the rights guaranteed to them in Article 137(A) of the Constitution. Government buildings were vandalised in Kohima and almost a thousand tribesmen marched with spears and machetes. The Assam Rifles were deployed to quell the protests. With pressure mounting, Zeliang resigned and was replaced by Liezietsu on 22nd February.
The contention began when Zeliang revealed that Liezietsu was to hold the position of the CM just to execute the urban local body elections peacefully. However, Liezietsu seems to have gone back on his word as he is preparing to contest the by-election on 29th July. The erstwhile appointment of his son to his cabinet had elicited a negative opinion from the public. After the declaration of Nagaland Police Advisor, M.K.R. Pillai’s illegal assets, the administration is being perceived as corrupt.
Thus, with the BJP’s corruption free image gaining ground, public opinion is swinging in its favour. With Liezietsu tightening the noose around Zeliang’s neck, Zeliang is left with no choice but to strengthen ties with his allies, the BJP.
The current standoff
On 8th July, Zeliang wrote to Governor P.B. Acharya that in the NPF meeting held on 4th June, 34 of the 47 elected MLAs urged him to become the CM and form a new government. Zeliang asserted the support of seven independent candidates, taking his tally to a total of 41 out of the sixty-odd MLAs in the Legislative Assembly. The MLAs have urged Liezietsu to resign. After Liezietsu’s son, Khriehu resigned as MLA in May, the incumbent CM was set to contest the unopposed by-election at the Northern-Angomi-(I) constituency.
On Sunday, Liezietsu sacked four cabinet ministers, 10 parliamentary secretaries and suspended 10 NPF members who had revolted against him. Liezietsu terminated the appointment of Zeliang as the Finance Adviser of the state government. The cabinet ministers are now stripped of their escorts and guards, with folders of the sacked ministers handed over to the CM. A shuffling of government quarters is to be done with immediate effect. Liezietsu replaced Zeliang with Kuzholuzo Azo Nienu, his close associate, as the Chairman of DAN.
It is rumoured that Zeliang had camped at the Kaziranga National Park. However, after the series of suspensions, he is headed to Delhi to meet PM Modi and Rajnath Singh to reach a consensus regarding support. The meet is particularly important for BJP as the bond with Zeliang will grant it greater access to Nagaland.
The bigger picture for BJP
The influence of BJP has become significant in Nagaland. For the first time in Indian history, a party other than Congress has shown its prowess in the Northeastern states. More importantly, the BJP seems to have a concrete ‘Northeastern Policy’ which brings these states to the fore. The victories in Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh show not only a definitive rise in vote-share but also the importance given by the BJP to these states.
In Nagaland, the tribe, clan, village and the Church play a key role in influencing people. The Hindutva ideology has been ineffectual in Nagaland. The RSS, whose presence is limited to Dimapur, usually attracts crowds by evoking nationalist sentiments surrounding historical figures. Given Nagaland’s history of secessionist movements and Christianity as the dominant religion, BJP has been attracting voters by presenting an image of a strong, rational and decisive government, capable of rooting out the existing corruption.
In the midst of conflicting identities and disharmony among the tribal populations and feuds in the ruling party, BJP turns out to be the biggest winner. Thus, an alliance with BJP is only in NPF’s long-term interest.
Featured Image Credits: Flickr
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