When TR Zeliang led NPF legislators along with their allies were singing a “Song” paying “tribute to mothers” at the famous Kaziranga’s IORA The Retreat, it reverberated across the state of Nagaland. One thinks – “How would it be nice if they could sing same at Kohima or Dimapur or any place in Nagaland in presence of mothers?”
Why did he go to Kaziranga to become a leader of NPF legislature party and why could he not do the same at the home turf? What was wrong and who was the threat to him are some of the basic questions?
It was only after Noke Wangnao, then Minister for Public Health Engineering (PHE), expressed his inner mind to the media with regard to the post of Chief Minister which would soon be vacated by Neiphiu Rio, Team Zeliang rushed to Kaziranga. He (Wangnao) even claimed that Rio asked him to become his successor as no one from the ENPO area had occupied the highest post in the state since statehood.
Of course, there were at least four contenders for the post of Chief Minister. They were TR Zeliang, Noke Wangnao, G Kaito Aye and Kuzholuzo (Azo) Nienu. Wangnao and Kaito did not, however, join the Kaziranga mission but Zeliang retained them when he formally took over the reins of the state from Rio. However, he was always suspicious of the duo and his suspicion was vindicated at last.
That was how the present Chief Minister TR Zeliang started his most tumultuous political journey from Kaziranga and he would, perhaps, never forget “Kaziranga” as his roadmap of becoming Chief Minister of Nagaland was drawn up from there.
Interestingly, before settling down the dust of political storms soon after becoming the Chief Minister of Nagaland, Zeliang started facing many oppositions not from the main opposition Congress party but from within his party. There were moves against his leadership, though not openly. Even at times, there were head counts, of course again unofficially, to throw a challenge against his leadership within the NPF legislature party. Yet, the numbers on his side were more and that made him and his colleagues loyal to him confident that they could carry on.
This off and on threat to his leadership still continued and at one point of time, many of his Cabinet colleagues had allegedly cautioned him to stand firm. On a few occasions, he was reported to have been allegedly advised by his senior cabinet colleagues loyal to him to even drop the dissidents from the Council of Ministers.
And when the people of Nagaland were still in Christmas festive hangover and not believing of any coup of sort, 22 dissident NPF legislators led by Kaito openly walked away from the 38 NPF legislature group. Many were caught napping and this sudden turn of political development had deepened the ruling NPF crisis to an unprecedented level. But Zeliang took advantage of the unusual political crisis to drop Kaito and Nienu and later Wangnao from his Council of Ministers.
Many political pundits believed that Zeliang might have planned to take support of Opposition Congress much ahead of the open revolt against his leadership as he knew that he would not be able to run his government peacefully unless he destabilized the dissidents. That was why within days of the open revolt, he approached the Governor of Nagaland for summoning a Special Session of the Nagaland Legislative Assembly to have a “Trial of Strength” of his shaky Government.
It took nearly a month for the Governor to summon a “Special Session of Nagaland Legislative Assembly” for “Floor Test” of his nine month old Ministry. The dissident NPF legislators, however, questioned the motive behind his move for “Confidence Motion” explaining that they were never against their Government in Nagaland but his leadership as NPF legislature party.
Although he won, as expected, the “Confidence Motion” on 5 February without a single legislator opposing it, he could not still run his government smoothly as the final verdict on the NPF party “Cock” symbol was pending in the Election Commission of India (ECI). The dissident group’s going to the ECI, after electing Wangnao as President of NPF, claiming the party’s “Cock” symbol had forced the NPF led by Dr Shurhozelie to fight back.
Zeliang was in dilemma unable to expand his Ministry till such time the ECI pronounced its verdict as it would decide the fate of his Ministry. But only after the ECI issued notification on 27 Marchto both the NPF groups to organize their “General Convention” as per their Party Constitution to end their internal party crisis, things had changed and reconciliation idea came up within them to settle their crisis.
Now, after fully knowing that the game was almost up, Zeliang took the smart move by elevating Parliamentary Secretary P Paiwang Konyak of BJP to Cabinet on 27 April and inducting another five legislators mostly as Parliamentary Secretaries leaving the rest to be inducted in the earlier part of May and that too after the “General Convention” of the party on 30 April.
His keeping in touch with the opposition Congress since the beginning of sailing his boat in the stormy seas was known as he allegedly wanted to chuck the dissident NPF legislators out of his Ministry. And after surviving the political storms with the support of opposition Congress, he had to take them (Congress) along whether it was opposed by the BJP or not. As Taylor Swift says, “Life isn’t how to survive the storm, it’s about how to dance in the rain.”
Finally, he inducted the leader of the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) Tokheho Yepthomi into his Council of Ministers while other five Congress legislators were appointed as Parliamentary Secretaries on 8 May. Congress leader SI Jamir, Dr TM Lotha (BJP), Imtilemba Sangtam (BJP), N Thongwang (NPF) and Naiba Konyak (NPF) have been sworn-in as Advisers on May 22. The last Congress legislator Imtikumzuk is yet to be appointed as the Deputy Speaker of the Nagaland Legislative Assembly.
So, looking at his last one year government, Zeliang was mostly busy negotiating the political storms and hardly had time for development in the state. The people suffered enough as their representatives remained incommunicado since the beginning of this year due to the NPF leadership crisis.
The Zeliang’s Opposition-less government will not be healthy at all as in a democratic form of government such as ours, the role of opposition is a must so that the welfare state does not suffer. In the absence of Opposition, no government can function effectively. Anyway, this inexplicable political chemistry in Nagaland also becomes the most intriguing political development in the history of Indian democracy.
Zeliang could not much on development front last year as he almost concentrated on survival of his Ministry, besides inheriting huge deficit from his predecessor. He failed to push the state’s Annual Plan discussion to better level either. There was hardly any major development worth mentioning during the last one year of his ruling, while the people had strongly reacted to the serious failure of law and order on some occasions. The unprecedented political crisis in the ruling NPF party had also taken their toll on the development, the people of the state and even the Naga political issue.
But one man who should not be forgotten as well during the entire stormy political journey is Dr Shurhozelie, President of the Naga People’s Front (NPF). He was continuously supplying fuel for the ship to sail through the stormy seas. It is a win-win game for him and Zeliang.
At least, at the end of completing one year of his hot seat, one remarkable thing he has done is inviting his “Manipur counterpart” O Ibobi Singh to Nagaland. As former NDA Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee once said in the Parliament, “You can change friends but not neighbors.” A shot in the arms, indeed! Now let us hope that concentration on development begins.