By Oken Jeet Sandham
As soon as Neiphiu Rio became the Chief Minister of the NPF-led DAN-I Ministry in Nagaland in 2003, 7 Congress MLAs, before the new “Anti-defection Law” came into force, defected to the major ruling NPF. The present Ministers TR Zeliang, G Kaito Aye were among the 7 Congress MLAs who defected to the ruling NPF party then.
Then in a little less than one and half years of ruling the State, Rio had to first face unprecedented revolts from his own party and allies as well when he started exercising his first downsizing jugglery in his first DAN Ministry as per the new “Anti-defection Law.” 20 sitting Cabinet Ministers and 2 Ministers of State had to be axed following downsizing the Ministry. Many thought his first DAN Ministry would collapse then but he survived the “downsizing specter.”
The purpose of the new “Anti-defection Law” is to provide “stability” to the Ministries, besides curtailing the profligate expenditures in running the “jumbo Ministries.” But this new “Anti-defection Act” was not a panacea to the “defection syndrome.” It still gives room for “Defection” in the form of merging a party with another political party. As per this “Anti-Defection Act,” two-thirds of the elected Members of any party can merge with another political party.
It may be noted that the 4 Congress MLAs resigned from their MLAship in 2009 and contested by-polls on NPF tickets. Because these 4 Congress MLAs could not merge with the NPF as it did form two-thirds of the total Congress legislators. So they had to resign from their MLAship as well as from the Primary membership of the Congress Party to face by-polls on NPF tickets.
The Opposition Congress strongly condemned the manner in which the major ruling party, NPF, allegedly indulged in dirty politics.
Then there came the NCP and the BJP to face casualties at the altar of “New Anti-defection Law.” Each party had 2 MLAs. So their MLAs merged one after another with NPF during the last DAN-II Ministry, for which the BJP and the NCP registered their strong protests against them (NPF).
Even a giant Naga political personality, Dr SC Jamir, had to face electoral defeat in a by-election in Mokokchung district. All these political activities had happened during the period of Rio’s DAN-I and DAN-II Ministries.
Undoubtedly, over the years, Rio could really manage to steer the dusty political journey to wrest control of the Government affairs. We have seen as to how the ruling NPF could manage to increase their seat tally after every State Assembly election since their coming to power in 2003. From 19 seats in 2003, they could increase their seats to 26 in 2008 and finally to 38 in 2013.
With the BJP and the JD (U)’s one MLA each, the NPF-led DAN-III strength reached to 40. Then, expectedly, the other 8 Independents too later became part of the NPF-led DAN-III, making a total of 48 in the House of 60. Their journey of political miracle did not end here. The 4 NCP MLAs also finally came forward to extend support to them. So eventually, they are 52, leaving the 8 Congress MLAs in the Opposition after 2013 Assembly polls. This is a politically remarkable achievement on the part of Rio in the history of Regional Political Party in Nagaland. This has made him all-time leader of the NPF Party.
In a way, Rio has gradually emerged as an undisputed leader in Nagaland, besides Nagas from across the State and beyond started looking at him as their “savior.” In order to flex his political muscles in other Naga inhabited areas particularly in Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, the Nagaland People’s Front (NPF) had to be rechristened as Naga People’s Front (NPF). Under the banner of this rechristened NPF, they first made inroads into Manipur and could successfully make its debut in the last Manipur Assembly elections in 2012 and won 4 seats. However, they failed to apply Manipur way in Arunachal Pradesh, while not uttering anything for Assam where large chunk of Naga populace has.
The NPF in Manipur is also seriously intending to set up their candidate for the ensuing 16th Lok Sabha elections in the Outer Manipur Constituency. Manipur has two parliamentary (Lok Sabha) constituencies — Inner and Outer.
Now, the NPF has unimaginably grown as a powerful “regional political party” among the regional political parties in the entire Northeast. They could speak as they like and do as they wish. According to media reports, the Nagas of Myanmar took Rio as a powerful Naga politician who could play a very important role not only in India but also in Myanmar to address their chronic issues. His hurriedly organized recent Myanmar trip was appreciated.
Rio even took the diametrically opposite step to the Opposition Congress by declaring that his Government would maintain “equi-closeness” with all the Naga underground factions. This “stereotyped remark” is hardly different from the political theory of the Congress that has its policy of “equi-distance” with all the Naga underground factions. He also used to say that his Government was only “facilitator” to the Center-Naga underground talks, while often remarking that the “talks” were going in the right direction. He is, however, still unable to share with any one of the “right direction information.” To me, any State Government — be it under any political party — should be involved in the peace process as it is going to decide the fate of the Nagas. Because the State Government is accountable to its people and they cannot remain as a silent observer.
During his DAN-II Ministry, series of “Naga Consultative Meets” were held. The Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR) was born and the DAN Government extended all possible support to its (FNR) reconciliation process with Naga underground factions. It is in fact a breakthrough that leaders of Naga underground factions could finally make a famous moment that they would form a soccer team to play against the team drawn up from the Naga civil societies. The hatreds, gaps and misunderstandings generated over the years among them had drastically reduced and all these incredible events took place during these DAN Government periods.
The peace process between the Government of India and the NSCN (IM) was 6 years old when Rio became the first Chief Minister of the NPF-led DAN Government in the State in 2003. It was momentous in the history of the Naga Political issue when the entire 60 legislators of the last Assembly under the banner of the Joint Legislature Forum (JLF) could boldly display a show of unprecedented unison to the Central leaders for the cause of the settlement of the Naga political issue. But sadly, they lacked the courage to influencing the Government of India and the NSCN (IM) to make their “Agenda” public. Today, the process is 17 years old. But much to the chagrin, none of the party—be it his Government or Delhi or NSCN (IM) —is still able to make the status of the process public.
On the other hand, there were several commitments made by many high profile Central leaders that solution to the protracted Naga political issue would be found within 12 months and sometimes within 24 months. Even the present UPA-II Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh said solution to the Naga political issue would be seen during his tenure. Regrettably, Delhi has even failed to appoint new interlocutor for the resumption of moribund talks with the NSCN (IM). It is clear that nothing is going to happen and such irresponsible actions will also generate negations discouraging other insurgent groups of the region from coming forward.
In spite of Rio’s meteoric rise in politics, he could not improve much on economic front, the most important element of any Governance. Expectedly, after forming the DAN-III Government, he appointed almost 2 dozens of MLAs as Parliamentary Secretaries, while other remaining MLAs as Chairmen of various PSUs in the State. He was so generous that out of 52, only 2 MLAs were left un-appointed but imagine the financial liability of maintaining this “jumbo administration.”
Unless you frame unique economic policies for the State, you can’t simply run the State with only the Centrally Sponsored Schemes. In fact, the State does not have at all any internal resources to generate revenues. The State fully depends on the Center for everything and it may suffer from policy paralysis while administering such a “Jumbo administration.”
It is simply unthinkable to produce another astute Regional Naga politician as Rio. He is an undisputed leader in the DAN-III and there is no threat to his leadership yet. Nevertheless, he has taken a decision to go to Delhi as a Nagaland MP and now his name has been cleared by NPF and its allies as well.
His decision has taken many by surprise. He has explained that his going to Delhi as a Nagaland MP is to bring more development, funds and to push peace process. If these are the reasons for his going to Delhi by leaving the coveted seat of Chief Minister, it is hardly convincing. Because we can’t expect him to just wave a magic wand and make everything fulfilled.
Yet, it is always politically correct to see that we have our MP who can really do something for not only the burning issues back at home but also for the cause of the Naga people in general. Any person elected as an MP from Nagaland is a very costly affair as he is going to represent the entire State of Nagaland.
As Rio is preparing to go to Delhi as a Nagaland MP, the State is increasingly seen suffering from leadership vacuum.
Well, as of now we don’t see any other politician other than Rio to become a capable Nagaland MP. Let us hope he becomes more than an MP at the Center. Wish him Bon Voyage to Delhi.