The BJP might be focussed on the Assembly elections in Delhi but a political crisis in faraway Nagaland following a split in its ruling ally Naga People’s Front (NPF) has challenged Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s managerial skills. Facing a coup "engineered" by his "hitherto anti-BJP" predecessor Neiphiu Rio, Nagaland chief minister TR Zeliang spoke to HT exclusively ahead of a trial of strength on Thursday.
Who is behind this crisis?
It was engineered primarily by our Lok Sabha member (Rio). He wanted to swim in an ocean, not in a swimming pool. So he quit as CM to become MP last year in the hope of playing a major role in the NDA government. But instead of working for the people as MP, he wants to rule Nagaland again and has propped up G Kaito Aye (dissident group leader).
How has the BJP come into the picture?
The dissidents dragged BJP in by trying to hijack three of its four MLAs before the saffron party's central leadership intervened. This meant that the issue was not merely an internal one for NPF. Rio is seizing the opportunity to warm up to BJP, the party he campaigned against during the parliamentary polls despite the alliance. He had also tried to finish the BJP in Nagaland during his reign.
How is the BJP leadership handling Nagaland?
I have met Modiji, (BJP chief) Amit Shah and (Union home minister) Rajnath Singh. They are clear cut about not destabilising any state, but want the truth to prevail. They know I proposed a no-confidence motion but the dissidents declined. I have full faith in them for ending the crisis in Nagaland the right way.
You are accused of not doing enough for the Naga peace process.
They expected me to do in eight months what Rio could not in 11 years of being CM! The Naga peace process (settlement with NSCN) is our first priority followed by cutting the huge fiscal deficit we have inherited.
Do you foresee President’s rule?
There is no ground for imposing President's rule. We are confident of passing the floor test (during the special Assembly session summoned by Governor PB Acharya) on Thursday because we are on the right path. I had the support of 52 MLAs (in a house of 60) to become CM last year. Many are with me this time too but the dissidents are claiming the support of 21 MLAs of our party (out of 38). Let’s hope for the best and pray.