Former Nagaland chief minister, Neiphiu Rio’s election campaign received a boost on Monday after his rival, Chupfuo Angami of the Naga People’s Front (NPF), dropped out of the race for the Northern Angami-II AC assembly seat.
In a move that caught even the NPF off guard, Angami said he was withdrawing his nomination as his “position was not good”.
Sebastian Zumvu, NPF central press secretary of NPF, speaking to indianexpress.com, said the withdrawal came as a surprise to the party. “He had informed us that his position was not good but he should have contested.”
Rio, a three-time former chief minister, is contesting under the banner of his newly formed NDPP. On the last day of filing of nominations, Chupfuo accused NDPP supporters of Rio of blocking the road while he was on his way to the office of the district commissioners office to file his papers.
In 1989, Chupfuo lost to Rio, who was then a Congress (I) candidate, in the Northern Angami-II constituency. Since then, Rio has remained undefeated for close to 25 years, even after ditching Congress for NPF. Interestingly, Chupfuo was married to Rio’s late elder sister.
For Rio, the February 27 election to the 13th Nagaland Legislative Assembly is an existential battle as he has been on the back foot since 2014 after his ambition of bagging a ministerial berth at the Centre was smashed after BJP ignored him post its historic win. In the biggest gamble of his political career, the then chief minister Rio had contested the Lok Sabha polls and emerged victorious by over four lakh votes, defeating his nearest rival KV Pusa of Congress in a triangular contest. But his gamble didn’t pay off. Soon after he faced a rebellion back home and when he was planning on making a comeback to state politics, the NPF passed a resolution that a MP could come back to the state assembly only after he completed his full term.
The newly formed NDPP, which apparently Rio had launched as a comeback vehicle, has partnered with the BJP for the February 27 elections. But it was Rio, then the chief minister of the NPF-led Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) government who had decimated Nagaland BJP in 2009 coercing its top leadership to shift allegiance to NPF. In 2004 BJP had won unprecedented seven seats but managed just two seats in the next elections, and then ended up with just one in the 2014 polls.
Nagaland witnessed political instability during 2016-2017 with the NPF engaged in an internal tussle. Neiphiu Rio led rebellions within the NPF and was suspended for anti-party activities, but later the suspension was revoked. In the run-up to the February 27 elections, Rio had made attempts to come back to the NPF fold but the triangular tussle among Rio, Chief Minister TR Zeliang and NPF president Shurhouzelie saw the former ousted and fall back on NDPP.