Nagaland crisis: Civil society groups give CM TR Zeliang three days to step down

Is Nagaland heading towards a political crisis as tribal groups launch no-holds-barred agitations demanding the resignation of Chief Minister TR Zeliang and his cabinet?

Kangkan Acharyya February 08, 2017 08:01:04 IST
Nagaland crisis: Civil society groups give CM TR Zeliang three days to step down

Is Nagaland heading towards a political crisis as tribal groups launch no-holds-barred agitations demanding the resignation of Chief Minister TR Zeliang and his cabinet?

And will the BJP emerge as his saviour as it did in earlier instance of dissidence?

These are the two pivotal questions that are likely to define the future political developments in the hill state, as the tribal bodies today issued a three-day ultimatum to the chief minister to resign.

Challenge from civil society groups

"Zeliang should step down on moral grounds within the period of three days with effect from 8 February, 2017," says a resolution adopted by the Nagaland Tribes Action Committee (NTAC). The protest demanding the resignation of the chief minister has gained such vehemence that the state secretariat has remained closed since last Saturday. The Asian Age reported, "With the police deciding to avoid any confrontation with protesters, the state secretariat in Kohima remained locked even on Monday. The Angami Youth Organisation (AYO) has locked the state secretariat since Saturday. Neither the chief minister nor his council of ministers could come out of their homes as the protesters laid siege and kept a close watch on their movements."

Nagaland crisis Civil society groups give CM TR Zeliang three days to step down

File image of Nagaland chief minister TR Zeliang. Image courtesy: PIB

Nagaland Post reported that even Governor Padmanabha Acharya’s offer to make peace between the tribal groups and the chief minister has also failed. "In a letter addressed to the governor, NTAC convenor KT Vilie and JCC convenor Supu Jamir have stated that since he (governor) was aware that their demand was non-negotiable, the only solution to the ongoing crisis is when Zeliang steps down from the office of the chief minister," reported the newspaper.

The civil society groups, popularly known as tribal bodies in Nagaland, have demanded the resignation of the chief minister and his cabinet on account of the deaths of two agitators in front of his home in Dimapur. Vilie reiterated their stand on Monday and asserted: "The chief minister is responsible for all the trouble. He is responsible for the death of two youths in police firing outside his residence in Dimapur on 31 January. He is also responsible for the mob fury that led to the burning down of so many government offices in Kohima on 3 February, so he must step down," reported The Asian Age.

Sources in Nagaland say that the tribal bodies are attempting to compel the Zeliang government to resign by rendering his government defunct.

Heat within the government

The chief minister also faces heat within his government as tribal bodies have demanded MLAs from their communities to withdraw support to him. Eastern Mirrror reported that the Chakhesang Public Organisation has urged its elected members to withdraw support to Zeliang, since his 'leadership and integrity are being challenged by one and all' reported the newspaper.

Meanwhile, Nagaland Post reported that another tribal group AYO also demanded resignation of Angami MLAs. In total support of the Angami Public Organisation’s directive issued earlier to the Angami legislators to resign, the AYO has asked legislators to resign cooperatively with immediate effect.  The newspaper reported that the AYO issued a press release that stated, "This clarion call is made once again trusting that without resorting to compulsive moves which are bound to develop if it is not responded positively."

The clarion call sounded by various tribal groups to MLAs to withdraw support to Zeliang has created much panic among the ruling Naga Peoples Front (NPF) legislators, as civil society groups hold tremendous sway over the socio-political issues in Nagaland. Only recently, the Nagaland government was compelled to withdraw the decision to hold ULB elections with 33 percent reservation for women, succumbing to the pressures from the tribal groups.

The hostility of the civil society groups has already begun to show its impact on the government with many legislators of the ruling NPF declining to continue supporting Zeliang, reported The Asian Age. "A large number of legislators of the ruling NPF are challenging the leadership of Zeliang... The legislators are reluctant to go against the NTAC, opposing the decision of the state government adopting Article 234(T) of the Constitution, which provides for 33 percent reservation for women in local body elections," said the report.

Sources in the NPF said that although the chief minister continues to enjoy the support of 42 NPF MLAs, it is unlikely to sustain if he fails to bring the tribal bodies on board.

Rift within the party

Even as the protest against Zeliang gains momentum in Nagaland, his party too has started contemplating on alternative chief ministerial candidates, said sources. According to The Asian Age, NPF chief Shürhozelie is said to be backing former minister Azo Neinu, while Home Minister Y Patton is believed to be floating the name of Public Health Engineering Department Minister Tekheho Yepthomi to take charge.

Meanwhile, sources said that if it turns out to be impossible to carry on with Zeliang as the chief minister, the NPF is likely to prop up another MLA as the chief minister.

Will BJP bail out Zeliang?

Speculation is rife in Kohima that Zeliang will finally join hands with the BJP to evade the imbroglio. The national party rescued the Zeliang government in 2015 by continuing with its support, when a large chunk of his MLAs turned dissidents. While it is being reported in some parts of the media that BJP general secretary Ram Madhav is trying to rescue him, some in the state believe that the BJP is unlikely to support Zeliang through this crisis, as in that case, the saffron party may also have to face public resentment.

Vichutuolie Mere, president of the Chakhroma Public Organisation said to Firstpost that it is unlikely that changing party would help the chief minister put an end to the present crisis.

“Even if he resigns, the public demand for his resignation will remain,” he said.

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