Neiphiu Rio was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Nagaland for the fourth time at the Local Ground in Kohima on Thursday, as the head of a new alliance, the People’s Democratic Alliance.
The ruling alliance has 18 legislators of Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) — a new party Rio heads after he broke away from the Naga People’s Front — 12 BJP MLAs and has the support of one JD(U) MLA and an Independent.
Significantly, though the NDPP that has more legislators than the BJP, the latter clinched more berths in the cabinet. Of the 12 ministers, including Rio and BJP MLA Y Patton, who was sworn in as Deputy Chief Minister, six are from BJP and four from NDPP.
The ministers who were sworn in included Pangnyu Phom, P Konyak, Jacob Zhimomi, Kasiho Sangtham, and Temjen Imma Along from the BJP and C M Chang, Neiba Kronu, Metsubo Jamir from the NDPP. JD(U) MLA Kaito Aye and Independent legislator Tongpang Ozukum, who extended support to the BJP-NDPP alliance, were also given ministerial berths.
There were several firsts at the swearing-in in Thursday — a new party leading a state government for the first time in years, a bevy of ministers from the central cabinet in attendance, and most importantly, this was the first swearing-in in the state that was held in an open air ground, as opposed to the norm of the ceremony being held in the Governor’s residence. “We want to send the message that this government will be among the people, and not insulated from them, and also that Nagaland will have peace and everyone is safe,” a senior BJP leader said.
The swearing-in was attended by BJP president Amit Shah, Minister of State for Home and the party’s Nagaland in- charge Kiren Rijiju, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, BJP general secretary Ram Madhav and NEDA chairman Himanta Biswa Sarma. The NDA also showed off its strength in the North East with four Chief Ministers, N Biren Singh, Pema Khandu, Sarbananda Sonowal, and newly sworn-in Conrad Sangma, all seated on the stage.
Hours after the swearing-in, the 12-member cabinet held its first meeting and made a slew of announcements. The cabinet reiterated that the government would play the role of a facilitator in Naga peace process, and urged Naga groups that haven’t yet done so to join ongoing negotiations. They announced measures against “VIP culture”, banning the use of name and designation plates on vehicles. They also announced that a Nagaland Investment and Development Authority will be set up and an investors’ summit held within 100 days.
The cabinet also announced that Indira Gandhi Stadium in Kohima would be renamed. A press release issued by Cabinet Secretary Temjen Toy said the stadium would be renamed T Ao stadium in memory of the first Naga Olympian Dr Talimeren Ao to “coincide with the centenary year of the sports legend.”
Ao was the captain of Mohun Bagan, and captain of the Indian football team that participated in 1948 London Olympics. He returned to Nagaland to become a doctor and served till his retirement as Director of Nagaland Health Services in 1978.
A senior government official said, “The cabinet felt this was a way to honour a Naga hero, who played for India and is a symbol of integration.”
However, there is an unmistakable symbolism in the renaming of the stadium named after a Prime Minister from the Congress, which has always been an important player in Nagaland, but for the first time, was wiped off the state electorally, winning no seats and getting just two per cent votes.