Fear of unpredictability with TR Zeliang forced BJP to abandon 15-year ally, join hands with NDPP to form Nagaland govt

Given his proximity to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership, built up over several years of being in an alliance, TR Zeliang, outgoing Chief Minister of Nagaland, believed he could mend the strained relationship with the saffron party and stay on in power. However, BJP leaders saw in Zeliang a leader who might cause problems for the party in a state where its raring to spread its wings.

Accordingly, the BJP ditched Zeliang's Naga People's Front (NPF) and decided to stick to its pre-poll alliance with the Nationalist Democratic People’s Party (NDPP).

File image of TR Zeliang with Narendra Modi. PTI

File image of TR Zeliang with Narendra Modi. PTI

Soon after the Nagaland Assembly election results were announced and threw up a fractured mandate, Zeliang announced with trademark defiance that he wouldn't quit as chief minister, and would instead try to patch up the alliance between the NPF and the BJP. He even met governor PB Acharya and announced his plans of meeting BJP leaders in New Delhi. He said his party chairman has written to BJP president Amit Shah, reported NDTV.

It wasn't just the personal rapport he shared with the BJP; Zeliang also had numbers on his side. His NPF emerged the single largest party with 27 seats. An alliance with the BJP would give them 39 MLAs in the 60-member Nagaland Assembly. On the other hand, the NDPP-BJP alliance had only 29 MLAs, two less than the magic figure of 31 needed to form a government.

Zeliang believed the promise of a more stable government would woo the BJP back into the fold, but it was an anticipation that proved incorrect.

After 15 years of sharing power with the NPF in Nagaland, the BJP now finds itself at a critical juncture; its role and the future of the party in the state will be shaped by the next set of decisions it takes. The BJP's leadership seemed cautious enough about these moves and the implications they would have on the fate of historic Naga Peace Process which is heading towards an amicable settlement.

NDPP leader Neiphiu Rio, BJP's pre-poll partner and the next chief minister of the state, is an old hand. To be fair, Rio is the one leader who has actually shaped contemporary Naga identity politics. He not only led the NPF to three back-to-back victories — from 2003 to 2014, to win three successive terms as chief minister — but he also added an economic dimension to Naga identity politics, by claiming the rights of the Nagas over natural resources like crude oil that's abundantly available in the state.

Rio also took forward the demand for political integration of Nagas residing in Manipur, and became a formidable force in the neighboring state as well. In fact, he extended Naga identity politics to the neighboring states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur.

His acumen as a political leader may come handy for the Centre when it tries to finalise and implement the Naga Peace Accord, something that's likely to happen later this year.

These cannot be said about Zeliang, whose leadership of the NPF itself is disputed. Zeliang was Rio's trusted aide till 2014, until the latter decided to contest Lok Sabha polls and became an MP. During his term as chief minister, Zeliang witnessed dissent from his party's MLAs and he had a hard time coping with this.

Zeliang's connect with the Naga society is also contested, as he was forced to step down by agitating civil society groups when he went ahead with his decision to hold urban local body polls with 33 percent reservation for women last year. It was unlikely that Zeliang would have been able to manouvere the alliance safely through the torrid times the Naga Peace Accord may lead to, which is likely to become one of the most contentious peace processes in the history of independent India.

Moreover, dissidence has already split the NPF into two factions. And the BJP's leadership has burnt its fingers with the heat of this friction, when it decided to align with the faction led by Zeliang, when the other faction — led by Shurhozelie Liezietsu — went against the saffron party.

Following this, the Liezietsu faction organised a 'Beef Feast' to protest the Centre's controversial beef ban, which had a long-term impact on the party's prospects. Continuing the relationship would have amounted to jumping on an already broken boat.

Though the NPF-BJP power sharing relationship dates back to 2003, the alliance has always been rocky. Sudden releases of press statements against each other became a common phenomenon. Many in the BJP believed that the party got a raw deal from the NPF in terms of sharing of portfolios, which also prevented the saffron party from furthering the relationship with NPF.


Updated Date: Mar 08, 2018 16:32 PM

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