NPF divided into two camps; TR team in Kaziranga
KOHIMA, MAY 8
THE current political scenario seems to have split the ruling NPF government and the party in half. Despite enjoying a clear majority, the quest for the chief minister’s chair by senior ministers, TR Zeliang and Noke Konyak has created two camps with almost equal numbers.
Those supporting TR Zeliang are camped in Iora Resort in Kaziranga, Assam. On 7thMay, they had a hurried meeting at Hotel Saramati which was attended by 14 MLAs and then proceeded to Kaziranga since there was a reservation for a wedding at Hotel Saramati. This was confirmed by the hotel management. In Kaziranga, the MLAs led by TR Zeliang booked 17 rooms for themselves and their drivers and bodyguards as per the management.
Meanwhile those supporting Noke are all in Nagaland. Zaleo Rio is reported to be in New Delhi for engagements.
The problem in the NPF started when an opinion poll which had shortlisted TR Zeliang and Kaito as probable chief ministers was initiated by NPF President Dr. Shurhozelie. A signatory of the poll informed this correspondent that Shurhozelie had assured them that the opinion poll was “top secret” and would not be revealed to anybody, “however it was leaked out and the whole market came to know of it”. Later a signature campaign favouring TR Zeliang was again initiated by the party functionaries called the Core Committee. The NPF President has set up a core committee to oversee the smooth transition of power once Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio gets elected to the Lok Sabha.
A senior legislator who also signed in the signature campaign, but had now withdrawn his signature informed that the signatories are being threatened with disciplinary action and even expulsion if they withdrew their signatures. He also revealed that when he signed, he was informed that Noke was not in the race and that only Kaito and TR Zeliang were being considered. Apparently, the leader of the legislature party and the Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio was kept in the dark about the opinion poll and the signature campaign. The NPF core committee includes senior party functionaries including the Secretary General KG Kenye. The core committee does not include any elected member or the chief minister.
Another legislator, while interacting with this correspondent said that he has changed his opinion after coming to know that the Chief Minister was not informed by the President about the opinion poll or the signature campaign.
The NPF has 38 MLAs and 20 would be a simple majority. One third of the elected Members, meaning 13 MLAs, are required for a split or defection. There are 8 independent Members in the House with 2 Members belonging to the BJP and the JD(U). The NCP has four Members and the Congress has 8 Members.
A legislator belonging to the Noke camp claimed that several members in Zeliang’s camp have changed their mind but are being threatened by the core committee of disciplinary action. He however claimed that there is no legal imposition on any member on his opinion of the leadership issue and that any MLA can change their stand any time. Legal experts have advised us that our opinion can change and we can withdraw our signatures anytime, he said.
Another legislator stationed in Kohima, while speaking to this correspondent said that “the party can split up or break apart if MLAs remain in two opposing camps…it is unfortunate that a signature campaign and opinion poll was allowed to happen by the party functionaries themselves”, he said, adding that “the party should have always tried to form a consensus, instead of creating a divide through a signature campaign and opinion poll”.
A close aide of the Chief Minister when contacted, said that, Rio favours a consensus and a democratic process and he has been saddened by the current scenario. He also informed that Rio had himself visited Dr. Shrhozelie’s residence yesterday and appealed to the veteran regionalist to work towards a consensus so that a smooth transition of power takes place after his departure.
Already five NPF divisions, namely Mon, Dimapur, Mokokchung, Longleng and Zunheboto, had expressed their support to Noke’s candidature though written statements but there have been no further statements after the NPF leadership issued a warning against making such statements.
NPF functionaries on the instructions of the Core Committee were sent to newspaper offices in Dimapur directing newspapers not to publish press releases, including Eastern Mirror. This reveals that there is wide divide between different wings of the party and there is every possibility of the party breaking up.
Sources revealed that the majority of legislators from Mokokchung, Zunheboto and Mon are supporting Noke’s candidature. Senior cabinet ministers in TR Zeliang’s side include Y. Patton and Kiyaneilie Peseyie.
A top source in the party informed that, “instead of ensuring a smooth transition, the opinion poll and signature campaign has created two camps and termed it as unfortunate”. It will be irreparable if the party splits, he said.
Noke is the senior most legislator in the DAN III cabinet and the only member who has never left the regional party even once throughout his political career. He is also the only contemporary of NPF President, Shurhozelie in the present ministry.
On the other hand TR Zeliang is the present Planning Minister and is considered close to the chief minister. He was a member of the Congress before he defected and joined the NPF in DAN’s first term along with other leaders including Tokheho, Doshehe and Kaito. He was the Planning Minister even in DAN II and was also a member of the Rajya Sabha. It is now to be seen what action the core committee will take as Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio is set to vacate the hot seat after 11 years at the helm.