2023 Battle: Ex Naga MLAs and former MPs clamour for ‘alternative leadership’

They are the old wine but they want to make a critical difference to Nagaland politics by getting into a new bottle.

Nirendra Dev

NEW DELHI/KOHIMA, August 3: They are the old wine but they want to make a critical difference to Nagaland politics by getting into a new bottle.

Given their experience and ability to draw “resources” and good contacts in Delhi and elsewhere in the northeast; it is anybody’s guess now whether the Forum will truly emerge as a formidable challenger to Neiphiu Rio’s leadership.

Former legislators and parliamentarians from Nagaland have set up a Forum and would soon draw out a goal-oriented roadmap for the coming Assembly elections in the state.

All options are open. In the past they backed Congress candidate K.L. Chishi (a former Chief Minister) during Lok Sabha elections of 2019.

However, they understand the political reality of 2022 and the near “invincibility factor” of the BJP at the national level.

“We are not against the BJP……Nagas as well as rest of India are passing through a challenging phase. At this juncture especially in the context of working for peace and solution to end the insurgency and political issue, Nagas need to be friendly to the ruling party in Delhi,” said a key leader of the Forum.

The Forum of former lawmakers would be meeting in Dimapur on Thursday, August 4, and will draw out further plans.
“We may decide to workout a formula with as many as 21 NDPP candidates who lost 2018 polls but are now very keen to look for fresh and good options,” a Forum insider told IANS.

The NDPP headed by Chief Minister Rio as of now has support of 44 MLAs of its own but four of them would be denied tickets as the party has pledged to contest only 40 seats and leave 20 for the BJP.

Between 2018 and now, legislator elected from JD(U) G. Kaito and NPP MLA L. Khumo had joined NDPP and are also serving as Ministers under Rio.

The state Housing Minister Tongpang Oz�k�m had own as an Independent candidate from
Angetyongpang Assembly constituency and defeated Rio’s trusted colleague Alemtemshi Jamir.

There is truly a problem of plenty for Rio-led NDPP as the 21 NPF legislators two months back defected and joined the party.

The former lawmakers’ Forum does not want to disturb BJP’s 20:40 seat share formula with the NDPP of Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio but says – “We want to draw out plans where we can provide more winnable candidates and participate actively in campaigning and drawing a mass level support”.

“As of now, our formula is based on hardcore political commitment and all out efforts would be made to resolve the Naga issue and bring a purposeful end to the long negotiations,” another source told IANS.

“The Forum is not for power game. Let there be good and alternative leadership to the present one led by Neiphiu Rio; but for an effective drawing of roadmap with JD(U) or the BJP, one senior member of the Forum should get organisational role for party presidentship”.

The idea is that the Forum’s principles and ideologies ought to be reflected in the political manifesto and other programmes. “If they do not want to disturb the equilibrium, our Form leader(s) should get chairmanship and other key roles in the campaign committee,” said a Forum insider.

“We want to remain in the background as of August 2022 because we do not have even an iota of doubts on the future prospect of Naga peace talks. If negotiating parties that is the militant groups and the Government of India wants to go ahead with a Solution to bring peace, we will first insist that it should happen,” said another leader.

He, however, drew a line of caution – “But talks should be purposeful and not merely in the name of negotiations.
But we are against negotiations which are not making any progress since 2019”.

Keeping the negotiations on but not arriving at any solution had led to increase in extortion from civilian population. The Naga guerrilla groups have argued in public that such extortion is legitimate taxation.

The reference is to the bitter fact that the NSCN-IM and central government’s peace talks remain stalled due to the twin demands of Flag and a separate Naga constitution.

Another leader in the Forum said – “The present NDPP-led coalition dispensation has failed to deliver peace and solution. It is a known fact. Perhaps the ruling elites have tried to hoodwink the central BJP leadership with another set of promises. BJP has given one more opportunity to the NDPP”.

The Forum does not mind that, he said adding – “We have therefore tried to caution the BJP to be careful. But if a solution comes before August 15, 2022 we are all for it and the Forum leaders will be the happiest of all”.

The Forum – as of now – can have “a unique political adjustment and draw our shared political strategy” essentially with three parties – the BJP and (or) two other saffron partners at the national level – the JD(U) and NPP led by Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma.

“So, this so-called seat adjustment alliance between BJP and NDPP (20:40) does not bother us. We are for a bigger cause,” says a key strategist in the group.

“We have to get rid of a regime that has failed people on several fronts….There is nothing personal about it.
But after 20 years of being in power and Chief Minister for 18 years, it is time for Neiphiu Rio to redraw the map of his political journey,” he remarked.

“I think, Rio should take the message sportingly,” said one former minister adding, “we will also broad base the Forum by encouraging more women and sitting MLAs, retired bureaucrats, Ministers and intellectuals to join us if they want to follow our ideologies and principles”.

As of now two senior leaders and former Chief Ministers K.L. Chishi and veteran S C Jamir are not yet part of the Forum.

“But we have four women leaders….It is an inclusive club and in the past this Forum has coordinated well with Gaon Burah Federation and a Committee of 14 Naga Tribes,” said the Forum leader.

A few leaders on behalf of the Forum will call on top leaders from JD-U and BJP in Delhi after August 15 and will share their roadmap with them.

One leader clarified that the move to back Congress nominee in 2019 Lok Sabha polls was based on “political ground reality of the time”.

“Now in 2022, we feel strongly that only the BJP-led government in the centre under Prime Minister Narendra Modi can bring in the solution….and it should not be delayed,” the leader mentioned.

Over 60 ex-legislators, former parliamentarians, intending candidates, some sitting legislators, retired bureaucrats and young politicians would be working to “form the next government” in the state, they insist.

On July 26, the BJP leaders Amit Shah and Himanta Biswa Sarma met Nagaland Chief Minister Rio in Delhi and both the parties agreed for a NDPP-40 and BJP-20 seat share formula.

This was the same 2018 electoral seat share formula between two parties but four years back, the BJP’s strike rate was better (with 12 win out of 20) against 18 seats win by the NDPP which fielded 40 candidates.

There was some resentment in the Nagaland BJP over the announcement of new alliance in July but rebel leader and deputy Chief Minister Y Patton later endorsed the alliance saying it would bring in stability.

Significantly, the umbrella organisation of Naga rebels, NNPG, which is keen for an early solution has also opposed the BJP-NDPP alliance.

(Nirendra Dev is a New Delhi-based journalist. He is also author of books,
‘The Talking Guns: North East India’ and ‘Modi to Moditva: An Uncensored Truth’.
Views are personal)

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