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NPF fears power struggle

- Party plans alternatives for CM post if Rio leaves

Kohima, Feb. 4: Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio’s decision to contest Lok Sabha polls is likely to lead to a succession battle in the Naga People’s Front (NPF), according to insiders.

NPF sources said a rift was imminent in the party as there were many takers for the top post if Rio gets elected to Lok Sabha. “People have given mandate to Rio to be the chief minister of Nagaland, not to contest for Lok Sabha,” said an NPF insider. He said they have already warned Rio about the troubles after his exit. “You will see more centres of power.”

In September last year, the party had decided in a meeting not to send Rio to Lok Sabha but the decision has been defied so far by the chief minister. During a recent meeting of the ruling Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN), of which the NPF is a constituent, Rio had requested the MLAs to let him contest the polls.

The party is already considering the name of planning and coordination minister T.R. Zeliang as a probable candidate for the chief minister’s post. But there are other senior leaders like home minister G. Kaito Ayeh, health and family welfare minister Imkong L. Imchen, who nurses a similar ambition.

Rio has reportedly told the DAN legislators that he would not interfere in choosing the next chief minister. Sources said Rio was chalking out his moves very carefully so his party does not collapse even if he leaves for Delhi.

The name of public health engineering department minister Noke Konyak has been also doing the rounds for the post of deputy chief minister. Noke is from eastern Nagaland, which has 20 legislators. Of these 20 MLAs, 19 are with the government and are expected to play a major role in choosing the next chief minister. NPF president Shurhozelie Liezietsu has said the Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation has requested him to let Rio contest the polls.

Rio was requested by the Northeast Regional Political Front and the BJP to contest the election. NPF sources said top BJP leaders, including its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, party president Rajnath Singh, leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, and former Nagaland chief secretary R.S. Pandey, who recently joined the party, have asked him to contest the polls. The BJP has already assured Rio of a cabinet berth, if they form the government, in a bid to solve the Naga political problem.

N. Chuba, president of the BJP state unit, said Rio was determined to contest the elections because if he gets elected, he can seek more funds for the state’s development and further the ongoing Naga peace process.

The Janata Dal (United), a constituent of the DAN, has said Rio had requested them to support his candidature. “Rio is fully prepared to contest the Lok Sabha polls,” said a senior JD (U) leader.

The two parties, which have one MLA each in the Assembly, remain tight-lipped over the leadership crisis in the ruling alliance, but said they want Rio to remain chief minister.

Zeliang, who is also secretary of the NPF search committee for the Lok Sabh polls, said if Rio contested and won, he could remain the chief minister for another six months and then decide on his future. But NPF sources said some party leaders might not accept such a decision.