The play continues
Yet another act unfolds in the continuing drama of the state’s political play with the scene now back at the now made infamous resort located in the renowned Kaziranga National Park. It has been in show since 2014 when the then chief minister vacated his seat to contest in the lone Lok Sabha seat from the state. On his leaving state politics he left behind 38 of his party men including the Speaker of the House in the Legislative Assembly only to be increased to a 48 with series of mergers that took place after the crises of 2015. The assembly was left with 8 Independents and 4 BJP who were also part of the Democratic Alliance of Nagaland thereby it was referred to by its protagonist as an opposition-less house . However even after mustering such numbers stability eluded the government. In time suspension orders from the party were also issued to party MLAs and also the sitting Lok Sabha MP on various grounds. The government made very good use of the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution to rein in the MLAs as was evident from the decision of the party seeking disqualification of nearly 20 members of its MLAs from the house. It was a very good case for the ongoing debate on dissidence vs defection with regard to Tenth Schedule especially after the 91st Amendment. Unfortunately even before completing three years the then chief minister T.R Zeliang had to pave way for his party president Dr. Shurhozelie Liezietsu who was not an MLA, in February 2017 after mass protests against ULB elections became violent leading to deaths and the protestors in turn demanded the resignation of the then chief minister. Dr. Shurhozelie Liezietsu became the third chief minister to be sworn into the current assembly. After hardly 5 months after taking office when Liezietsu is busy preparing for his by-election scheduled to be held on July 29 his MLAs instead surprised him with their intention to bring back TR Zeliang as the chief minister. Currently the NPF MLAs camped outside the state supporting TR Zeliang are around 36 MLAs, more than the required two thirds of the total party MLAs that give them the liberty to merge with any party or form a new party through a merger. In the next few days, if the number remains consistent without desertion and on the other hand the chief minister who is also NPF party president sticks to his chair, it might prompt for a floor test from the Governor. Although the party have replied to the move by suspending 10 MLAs from the party and terminating more than 10 ministers, advisors and parliamentary secretaries they are still members of the assembly. Moreover, unlike the previous move to topple TR Zelaing by the supporters of Kaito Aye in 2015, the present set is ironically a team up between both their supporters against the current chief minister and so have better number of MLAs. They have the majority of the party MLAs to make the required Legislature Party decisions and also the required numbers if they have to merge to a party. Constitutional experts state that the Chief Whip of a party is appointed by the Legislature Party. Although it will be in consultation with the party organisation outside the house and also the chief minister but it is the legislature party that appoints the chief whip. The supporters of TR Zeliang cleverly has made a quick move and appointed him as the chief whip backed by 33 signatures of MLAs from his party and would be probably presented to the Speaker soon. Once accepted by the Speaker the whip becomes official and will be utilised if the Governor decides to settle the matter through a floor test. That path looks almost clear for the change of guard to happen except for the reasons and the manner in which TR Zelaing had to step down earlier in February 2017. The public response especially from the tribe organisations that spearheaded the demand for his resignation may not sit idle and might reorganise again. That will be a major stumbling block and the public might not easily forget the debacle of the government during the proposed ULB elections that finally had to give in to the demands of the organisations. As for the central government, the timing couldn’t be worse since the it will be forced to take some quick decisions as the Presidential Election is scheduled to be held in another weeks time, on July 17. A dissolution of the assembly is the worst case scenario that none of the actors would really want it. As of now, as usual the BJP is taking a neutral stand, at least outwardly, and will remain so unless there is a floor test. However if the chief minister accepts and listens to the majority decision of his MLAs and pave way for a smooth transitioning, his successor still has to worry about the public sentiments that led to his ouster the last time.