IN A stalemate familiar to Nagaland politics, a former chief minister has staked claim to form the government, while the incumbent has refused to resign.
In a meeting Sunday with Governor P B Acharya, NDPP leader Neiphiu Rio claimed the support of 32 MLAs in a 60-member House. However, Chief Minister T R Zeliang, whose NPF emerged as the single largest party with 26 seats in the Assembly poll results Saturday, is learnt to be hoping that the BJP, with which he had an alliance until recently, may side with him.
On paper, the NDPP-BJP alliance has the numbers, with the NDPP winning 18 seats, the BJP 12. This alliance also has the support of an Independent and the lone JD(U) MLA.
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While the results had first given the NDPP 17 seats and the NPF 27, Chief Electoral Officer Abhijit Sinha confirmed Sunday that the ECI had directed to “cancel the wrong result in favour of Shri NR Zeliang due to wrong tabulation”. He said Namri Nchang of the NDPP had won the Tening constituency seat by 168 votes.
On Sunday morning, Rio met Acharya along with BJP general secretary Ram Madhav. In the afternoon, in what was thought would be a meeting to tender his resignation, Chief Minister Zeliang met the Governor to stake his claim.
The Governor has given both sides 48 hours to prove on paper that they have the numbers.
Central to the NPF’s hopes are two aspects: stability of the government in Manipur, and the strength of the government in Nagaland.
Sebastian Zumvu, senior leader of the NPF, said, “It is very obvious that we have four MLAs in Manipur who are part of the government. The Chief Minister is in talks with the BJP, which is also divided on the subject. The NPF and the BJP alone make up 38 seats… and the NPP and the JD(U), which are part of the umbrella North East Democratic Alliance, would make it 41, with possibly one independent. That is a far more stable government.”
Zumvu said Zeliang would meet the senior central leadership of the BJP. “We are hopeful that some solution can come out of it. We have been in government together for 15 years,” he said.
Rio, in fact, headed that government for three terms, but broke away to form the NDPP after disagreements with Zeliang and party president Shurhozelie Liezietsu . The BJP won one seat in the 2013 elections, but its numbers increased to four after three NCP candidates switched sides.
When the BJP announced its seat-sharing pact with the NDPP, it clarified that it wanted its relationship with the NPF to continue, too.
A senior BJP leader said the party was comfortable in its decision to back Rio. Now that it was certain that the BJP would be part of the government, anyone was welcome to come and talk, he said.
“I don’t think Manipur is a bargaining chip because the government there is stable, regardless of the NPF. I do not know of a meeting with Amit Shah or the Prime Minister yet, but Zeliang will resign at some point. Whether the NPF will be in government, that can be discussed,” said the BJP leader.
In 2015, Zeliang ran a government with all 60 MLAs after joining hands with six Congress legislators.
Speaking to reporters in Kohima, Governor Acharya said he had told the Chief Minister that the role of the Opposition “was important in a democracy”. Acharya said his role as Constitutional head was to see who had the majority.
Asked if everyone merging together in one government was possible, a senior NPF leader said, “That becomes a conversation of whether Zeliang and Rio can work together. But is it possible? Yes, it is.”