Amid the turmoil in Nagaland after protests against women reservation in local bodies polls, a political crisis has come to the fore in the border state where the ruling party MLAs have revolted against Chief Minister T R Zeliang.
Seeking the ouster of Zeliang who has been under fire for his handling of the protests, over 40 legislators of the ruling Nagaland People’s front (NPF) have moved to a resort in Kaziranga National Park in neighbouring Assam. The MLAs want Zeliang replaced with state's lone Lok Sabha member Neiphiu Rio.
In the 60-member assembly, the ruling Democratic Alliance of Nagaland comprises 48 NPF legislators, including suspended legislator Imkong Imchen, four of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLAs and eight Independents.
The NPF legislators, along with the Independent legislators, are camping in Borgoch resort close to Assam's Kaziranga National Park. Rio is scheduled to meet the legislators later to discuss the transition of power.
Rio was expelled from the NPF last year for alleged anti-party activities.
NPF supremo Shurhozelie Liezietsu, has, however, exuded confidence that the MLAs will return to the party fold and would support the party decision. The MLAs initially had chosen Liezietsu as the replacement for Zeliang but switched sides on Friday night and threw their weight behind Rio. They have asked Liezietsu to revoke the May 2016 order expelling Rio for alleged anti-party activities.
"The party (NPF) organisation is intact and that nothing would go wrong since we still hold the trump card," Liezietsu said addressing an emergency meeting of the NPF Central Executive Council and the Central Office Bearers, along with the Division Presidents, on Saturday evening at his residence here.
On Wednesday, 42 of the 49 legislators had unanimously supported NPF supremo Liezietsu as their new legislature party leader to break the deadlock between the agitating groups and the government.
However, a group of nearly 20 legislators, including some cabinet ministers, were against 84-year-old Liezietsu as their legislature party leader.
However, Liezietsu promised his party workers that changes will take place in his favour in a day or two.
"Some of our legislators have gone to Kaziranga, but they are still NPF legislators and we are in touch with many of them. Changes in our favour will take place in a day or two," the 81-year-old NPF supremo told his party workers.
Public Health Engineering Minister Tokheho Yepthomi told IANS: "More than 50 (NPF and Independents) legislators have decided to support Rio as the new legislature party leader."
"There will be a formal meeting later in the evening to complete the formality and then meet the Governor to stake claim and form the new government," he added.
In fact, Rio and Zeliang met Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh late on Friday night in New Delhi and finalized change of guard to break the deadlock between the agitating tribal Naga groups against 33 per cent reservation for women in civic elections.
"I have heard about the political development but let me meet the legislators before I comment on anything," Rio, a three-time Nagaland Chief Minister, told IANS after landing at Dimapur airport in Nagaland.
Governor P.B. Acharya, Zeliang and Rio reached Nagaland from New Delhi.
Acharya on Friday met President Pranab Mukherjee and apprised him about the situation in the state.
Nagaland has been in turmoil since January, after the NPF-led government decided to hold local body elections in 12 towns across the state with 33 per cent reservation for women.
Agitating tribal groups -- under the banner of Nagaland Tribes Action Committee (NTAC) and Joint Coordination Committee (JCC) -- have been demanding the resignation of Zeliang over his decision to conduct civic bodies' polls with 33 per cent reservation for women.
The government continued to shut down internet and mobile data service to stop the spread of rumours through social networking sites. It later declared the civic elections "null and void".
Three persons were killed and many injured following clashes between police and the public opposing the civic polls.
NPF legislator Neiphrezo Keditsu had resigned as the Chairman of Nagaland State Mineral Development Corporation Ltd on moral grounds since one of the persons killed in the Dimapur police firing was from his village.