Nagaland crisis: TR Zeliang, Shurhozelie Liezietsu and the latest political tug-of-war to hit Kohima

The political deadlock in India's northeastern state of Nagaland is showing no signs of letting up, with neither of the warring factions in the ruling Naga People’s Front (NPF) appearing in the mood to relent. Governor PB Acharya has asked Chief Minister Shurhozelie Liezietsu to prove his majority on the floor of the Assembly on 15 July. However, at the heart of the crisis is the power struggle between Liezietsu and the state's former chief minister TR Zeliang. Firstpost recapitulated the political developments in the state, to bring you the story so far.

File image of Shurhozelie Liezietsu. Image courtesy:

File image of Shurhozelie Liezietsu. Image courtesy:

The story from the start

It all started in January 2017 with civil unrest in the state over the NPF government's — then headed by Zeliang — move to hold civic polls with 33 percent reservation for women. The tribal bodies in the state almost unanimously opposed the reservation to women leaders, stating that the government order was in contrast to their traditions, which do not allow women to take up leadership roles. The state saw violent protests on its streets from tribal communities, from 31 January onwards, after the state government decided to hold urban local bodies' (ULB) election with 33 percent reservation for women, which led to the death of three persons in police firing.

The deaths resulted in a state-wide bandh, with a demand for the then chief minister Zeliang’s resignation. Nagaland saw a total breakdown of state machinery as protesters made it impossible for the government to function until Zeliang was relieved of his post. The protest gained such vehemence that the state secretariat remained closed for 18 days and Zeliang had to finally relent and vacate his post on 19 February.

Following this, the ruling NPF's  MLAs elected Liezietsu as a non-MLA chief minister and new leader of the legislative party on 22 February.

What spurred the current crisis?

The state appeared poised for a fresh bout of political crisis on 8 July, with a majority of NPF legislators gunning for the ouster of Liezietsu, and Zeliang staking his claim to form the government. A rebellion erupted within the legislature party against Liezietsu — merely four months after taking over as chief minister — accusing him of indulging in nepotism by appointing his son Khriehu as advisor with Cabinet status and pay.

Amid the hue and cry over his appointment, Khriehu even declined the Cabinet post, apparently to bail his father out. However, the warring factions have shown no signs of relenting.

The fresh political instability has come at a time when Liezietsu is gearing up for the 29 July by-election from the Northern Angami-I Assembly constituency. Khriehu had resigned from the same seat last month to enable his father to contest and become an elected member in the Nagaland Assembly in order to continue as chief minister.

Liezietsu, subsequently, hit back at Zeliang, who has staked his claim to form government, by sacking four top ministers and 10 Parliamentary Secretaries. The chief minister also suspended 10 legislators from the party's primary membership for alleged anti-party activities.

Meanwhile, voices backing Zeliang's return as chief minister grew stronger in the party, with 35 of the 47 NPF legislators rooting for the former chief minister's return.

"More than 40 (NPF and Independent) legislators have signed a letter of support in favour Zeliang as the new legislature party leader," IANS quoted a senior NPF legislator, who did not wished to be named.

The NPF legislators along with the Independent legislators are camping at a resort in Kaziranga National Park in Assam to discuss the transition of power.

Commenting on the irony of the situation, a Hindustan Times piece observed, "It was virtually an action replay of what happened before Zeliang had to quit in the last week of February. A majority of NPF legislators had trooped into the same resort then."

The copy also notes that NPF sources haven't denied the possibility of Nagaland's lone Member of Parliament Neiphiu Rio being behind the current crisis. Interestingly, Zeliang has unusually warmed up to Rio, once his bitter rival and a three-time Nagaland chief minister. Rio was even suspended a couple of years ago for "anti-party activities", particularly against Zeliang. Rio's name had even cropped up as a likely successor to Zeliang during the February impasse, according to Scroll.

However, Liezietsu trumped him at the last moment. In the truncated 59-member Assembly, the ruling Democratic Alliance of Nagaland coalition government comprises 47 NPF legislators, including suspended legislator Imkong Imchen, four BJP MLAs and eight Independents.

Updated Date: Jul 19, 2017 14:20 PM

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