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Nagaland Assembly elections: NPF not to sever ties with BJP, confident of win

On why the NPF had decided to end the long term alliance, Zumvu, member of the NPF central executive committee said the decision was taken to safeguard the interest of the Naga people.

Written by Kallol Dey | Kohima |
Updated: January 23, 2018 10:54:11 pm
Nagaland elections, Nagaland assembly elections, NPF, BJP, Naga People’s Front, India News, Indian Express, Indian Express News The assembly polls is scheduled to be held on February 27 (Express/ File)

After weeks of uncertainty, the ruling Naga People’s Front (NPF) on Tuesday decided not to sever ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and continue with the alliance for the Assembly polls scheduled for February 27.

The central executive committee of the NPF, which met in Kohima on Tuesday to review the earlier decision of severing ties with the BJP, resolved to continue with the alliance considering the “urgency to create a congenial atmosphere for the ongoing political dialogue between the Government of India and the Naga National Workers (NSCN-IM/NNPGs) for political solution.”

Speaking to indianexpress.com about the decision, Sebastian Zumvü, member of the NPF central executive committee, said, “Considering that the Naga peace process is at a crucial stage, we felt it would be good for the Nagas if cordial relationship is maintained with political party in power at the Centre.” It will help in improving the bargaining chances of the NPF, he added. On why the NPF had decided to end the long term alliance, Zumvü said the decision was taken to safeguard the interest of the Naga people. “At that time we had been deprived of our constitutional rights with the active support of the BJP,” he added.

M. Chuba, Nagaland BJP campaign committee in-charge and former state president of the party informed that he had met Shurhouzelie earlier in January to discuss seat sharing. But, the octogenarian Shurhouzelie who is a hardcore regionalist remained non-committal. It has been learnt that the Nagaland state BJP is also divided over the choice of TR Zeliang and Neiphiu Rio as some in the unit feel that BJP has less chance of bargaining with NPF in which Shurhouzelie still wields significant authority.

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Ties between NPF, the oldest regional party in North East, and BJP go way back to 1977 during the formation of Janata Party as a national alternative to the Congress. Since 2014, a rift has occured between the two parties, and in mid 2017, the regional party decided to sever ties with the BJP. The NPF had accused BJP of fomenting instability in Nagaland for its own political gain when the saffron party had sided with TR Zeliang and dissident MLAs against then-chief minister Dr. Shürhozelie Lieziestu in July 2017.

Lieziestu had taken over the reins of the government after Zeliang was forced to step down as the chief minister over the municipal election ordeal. He was forced to vacate the chair soon for Zeliang. The Shürhozelie-led NPF had then accused that the 10th Schedule of the Constitution of India was being circumvented by TR Zeliang supporters with active support of BJP who wanted to enhance its political fortunes in the state.

The issue of ending alliance was called for a review after chief minister Zeliang and NPF president Shürhozelie patched up in December 2017 and the BJP continued as part of the DAN government. But there has been much confusion over the issue as the game of seesaw continued among TR Zeliang, Shürhozelie and Neiphiu Rio with BJP pulling the strings from the sidelines.

Internal tussle within the NPF, beginning with the suspension of Lok Sabha MP Neiphiu Rio in 2016 on charges of revolting against chief minister TR Zeliang, had opened up the playing field for DAN partner BJP. In the run up to the polls, the formation of Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party, which declared Neiphiu Rio as its chief ministerial candidate, handed the BJP an alternative to NPF for pre-poll alliance. Sources said that the ruling NPF weakened by internal strife and fighting to sustain the confidence of its rank and file in the party, particularly in the wake of an imminent BJP-NDPP pre-poll tie-up, was forced to review the decision of severing ties.

Nagaland BJP sources said that the party’s central leadership has been informed of the development but it will take the final call after meeting with TR Zeliang who is expected to reach New Delhi on Wednesday. NDPP’s Neiphiu Rio earlier today had met with BJP national president Amit Shah regarding forging of alliance. While the NPF is BJP’s preferred option, the national party is keeping its options open, the source confirmed, hinting that Rio’s NDPP would be used as a bargaining chip on seat-sharing talks with the NPF. Sources also said that Nagaland BJP leaders had met with chief minister TR Zeliang on Monday regarding seat sharing.

On seat sharing with the BJP, NPF’s Zumvu said while it has been agreed in principle, sharing of seats would be done on the merit of each case or constituency. “We just cannot hand them (BJP) a blank cheque,” he categorically stated.

On the Rio-led NDPP being a threat to NPF, Zumvu asserted that his party has “all advantage.” “We have an established organisational set-up to the village level. On a state level they (NDPP) might have retired bureaucrats and political wannabees, but to have an organisational set up like NPF, it will take a new party several years,” Zumvu said adding that the party is confident of coming back to power in March.

Asked whether the NPF would consider the calls of the civil organisations to not go for the election before the Indo-Naga talks are resolved, Zumvü categorically stated, “We don’t want a repeat of 1998; we do not want to hand over the government to another party on a silver platter.”

While the Nagaland elections are important to the BJP, considering the negotiations over the Naga Accord, the party is also looking at the four northeastern states, including Nagaland, going to the polls, to expand the party’s base in the region in collaboration with the regional forces. Towards that, the BJP had set up the North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) following its win in Assam.

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