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Rebel-lion in Rio ranks

Kohima, June 1: A militant leader was today caught trying to coerce a Nagaland People’s Front legislator into withdrawing support to chief minister Neiphiu Rio in the official quarters of a Congress MLA.

Over 50 of Rio’s supporters barged into the room of Congress member Nungsang at the MLAs’ Hostel in Kohima when they came to know that a leader of the NSCN (Isak-Muivah) was there with NPF legislator Taire Zeliang and trying to make him sign a document. It transpired that the document was a letter withdrawing support from Rio, whose NPF heads the ruling Democratic Alliance of Nagaland.

The chief minister’s supporters would have manhandled the militant leader, A.K. Lungalang, but for the intervention of another NSCN (I-M) functionary, K.K. Angami. A source in the militant group said the issue was “resolved there and then”.

There was, however, no end to the political drama that began a few days ago with some NPF members deciding to challenge Rio’s leadership. The chief minister’s loyalists suspect the Congress of “controlling” the dissident NPF legislators.

“That a member of a militant group was caught threatening Zeliang in a Congress MLA’s room proves the party’s involvement in the conspiracy,” an aide of the chief minister said.

As many as 10 NPF legislators called on Governor K. Sankaranarayan to repose faith in Rio. The trip to Raj Bhavan was ostensibly a reaction to five dissident MLAs claiming that 16 of their NPF colleagues had joined them.

The 10 legislators who are standing by Rio are Kuzholuzo, Nyeiwang Konayk, K. Naiba Konyak, Nkhao Lotha, Hewoto, Yitachu, Kipili, Hukavi, R. Khing and Kaito Aye.

This is the second crisis for the Rio government since it assumed office in 2003. A group of 14 had moved a no-confidence motion against Rio in 2004. All but four of the dissidents — K. Therie, Z. Obed, Vatsu Meru and Talinungsang — changed their minds soon after. The party suspended the recalcitrant quartet.

Sources in the NPF said the same four leaders were now conniving with the Congress to destabilise the government. Party secretary Kath Rengma said the suspended NPF members were also concocting stories to confuse the people.

Earlier in the day, the NPF convened an emergency meeting at the residence of its president, Shurhozelie.

The chief minister’s press secretary, Abu Metha, said there was no threat to Rio and that reports of the challenge to his leadership were “rumours”. But Khutovi Sumi, one of the four Independent legislators in the ruling coalition, said the dissidents were projecting Obed as their chief ministerial candidate.

The other constituents of the ruling alliance are the BJP, Janata Dal (United) and the Samata Party.

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