Neiphiu Rio returns to centre stage of politics in Nagaland, to form govt with BJP

State governor PB Acharya endorsed Neiphiu Rio’s claim to form the government since he said he had the support of 32 MLAs in the 60-member Nagaland assembly.

Nagaland Election 2018 Updated: Mar 04, 2018 19:27 IST
Sadiq Naqvi
Sadiq Naqvi
Hindustan Times, Kohima
Neiphiu Rio,Nagaland,Assembly elections
Neiphiu Rio, one of the richest candidates in Nagaland with a net worth of more than Rs 30 crore, has often faced allegations of corruption, which he had denied throughout.(HT File Photo)

Former chief minister Neiphiu Rio on Sunday staked claim to form the government in Nagaland, saying his Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP), an ally of the BJP, has the support of 32 legislators after the February 18 elections to the 60-member assembly.

State governor PB Acharya endorsed Rio’s claim and said he has the majority and should form the government.

The NDPP, a party founded in 2017, won 18 seats in results declared on Saturday, its ally the BJP has 12, the Naga People’s Front (NPF) got 26, the National People’s Party won two, while one seat apiece went to the Janata Dal (United) and an Independent.

Elections were held for 59 seats as NDPP leader Rio was elected unopposed from North Angami II constituency.

The NDPP-BJP alliance, forged before the elections, managed to unseat the regional NPF, which is again an ally of the ruling BJP-led National Democratic Alliance at the Centre.

The new alliance secured 30 seats, including that of Rio, and claims to have the support of the lone JD(U) legislator and the Independent, thereby putting it above the majority mark.

It will be Rio’s fourth term in the state as its chief minister. An Angami Naga who has been elected unopposed from North Angami II constituency, he has held the portfolio thrice, till 2014, when he was still with the NPF.

The 67-year-old Rio, with eyes on national politics, set out for Delhi and became an MP. “He wanted to make his presence felt in Delhi,” said Geoffrey Yadin, the editor of Nagaland Post.

According to Kevi Letuo, the former chief of the Naga Hoho community association, Rio decided to go to Delhi to strengthen the Naga peace talks.

It was also speculated that Rio was promised a cabinet berth in the Union government, but that did not happen because of the infighting within the NPF. The party witnessed a bitter tussle for power in the past two years among chief minister TR Zeliang, former chief minister and party chairman Shurhozelie Liezietsu and Rio.

“The decision to go to Delhi proved to be a misadventure and he has been trying to come back to the state,” said Moa Jamir, the editor of Morung Express, a Nagaland newspaper.

His decision to form the next government with the BJP after the February elections is seen as his second coming to Nagaland politics after the NPF suspended him in 2015 and again in 2017, apparently in a bid to keep him occupied in Delhi.

Former Hoho chief Kevi said the internal tussle prompted Rio’s exit from the NPF.

The BJP too parted ways after the NPF is said to have turned down its demand for sharing seats in the polls. Once Rio joined the NDPP in January 2018, it was clear that the BJP would go with the new friend.

The national party, which was trying to expand its footprint in the Northeast, was also unhappy with the way the NPF had taken forward the church’s view on the BJP-RSS, said a politician who asked not to be named.

Rio, one of the richest candidates in Nagaland with a net worth of more than Rs 30 crore, has often faced allegations of corruption, which he had denied throughout. In the run-up to this year’s elections, Rio was accused of siphoning government funds to shore up his finances — another charge the leader dismissed as unfounded.

But Rio’s image as a decisive leader seems to have worked. “His campaign plank of decisive leadership proved to be the game-changer,” Jamir said.

Yaden, who went to Baptist English School in Kohima with Rio, said the failure of the former chief minister’s successors in handling the state with authority ensured his comeback.

Rio faces a huge task to “take corrective steps and deliver on the promise of good governance”, he said.

As for the NPF, Kohima is abuzz with a possibility of a healthy opposition. But as Yaden said no political party wants to remain out of power in Nagaland. One might just see the NPF joining the government.

First Published: Mar 04, 2018 17:45 IST