| Neiphiu Rio |
Kohima, May 8: After days of speculation and rumours, the rift in the ruling Naga People’s Front (NPF) is apparently becoming clear in the public domain.
As chief minister Neiphiu Rio prepares to leave for New Delhi for his new assignment if he becomes an MP, the rift has surfaced in the party over who should be the next chief minister.
Currently, the strong contenders for the top post are minister for public health engineering department Noke Wangnao and minister for planning and co-ordination T.R. Zeliang, while the third contender, home minister G. Kaito Ayeh, is reportedly out of the race.
According to reports, the NPF, which has 38 legislators, was no more united and now sheltered in different camps.
The NPF leaders had already warned Rio that he will be solely responsible for any repercussions in the party, but the latter was determined to contest the recently held Lok Sabha polls.
While Rio and some of his cabinet ministers are reportedly in favour of Noke, Rio’s once close aide and apparently turned foe, Zeliang, was determined to capture the chief minister’s chair.
Sources, including from the NPF camp, have confirmed that Zeliang has been camping at Kaziranga National Park in Assam since last evening. He has reportedly mustered the support of around 20 MLAs.
Sources said Noke’s camp has around 25 legislators.
Of the 20 MLAs in four districts of eastern Nagaland, 19 are with the DAN but sources said even among them, there was no clear backing for Noke.
Some cabinet ministers did not prefer either Zeliang or Kaito as their next leader, as they are thought to be “spineless” leaders.
Last year, cabinet ministers like Imkong L. Imchen and Kuzolhuzo Nienu strongly opposed Rio contesting Lok Sabha on the ground that the NPF might disintegrate if Rio leaves for Delhi. Currently, both of them are reported to be in Noke’s camp.
Imchen, along with Mokokchung district NPF division, has come out in favour of Noke. Five NPF divisions have come out in the leader’s favour despite the party leadership’s attempt to gag them.
Reports said the NPF leadership was contemplating action against those divisions which have defied the high command’s gag, but sources did not rule out revolt in the party if such an action was initiated.
The party leadership and Rio are reportedly not on good terms after the former had a one-to-one closed-door meeting with party legislators, which further created suspicion and doubts in the party.
Earlier, Zeliang was tipped to be the next chief minister and Noke deputy chief minister but as time passed, political equations changed.
Rio has his hands full in keeping the flock together at a time when his popularity is being questioned.