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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2347

Nagaland: T.R. Zeliang Should Exhibit Political Mmaturity, Avoid Tribal Card

By Oken Jeet Sandham

Quite unexpectedly during his election campaign for their NPF candidates in Manipur’s Tamenglong District, former Nagaland Chief Minister TR Zeliang, who just stepped down as Chief Minister a week back, said he was a victim of the majoritarian politics. He said he was dislodged as Chief Minister because he belonged to a minority tribe.

He might be trying to portray the leaders of Manipur who belong to minority communities that they would also have similar fates at the hands of majoritarian politics in the State. But his proposition simply does not find any takers, instead kicked up a serious debate about the complicated tribal composition that has been in existence in the State of Nagaland.

When present Nagaland MP Neiphiu Rio announced that he would vacate his Chief Ministerial seat as he wanted to go for MP, immediate leadership crisis for the post of Chief Minister emerged. There were at least four contenders for the post of Chief Minister. They were TR Zeliang, Noke Wangnao, G Kaito Aye, and Kuzholuzo (Azo) Neinu. All were Cabinet Ministers then. Zeliang belongs to Zeliang tribe. Wangnao belongs to Konyak tribe. Aye belongs to Sumi tribe. Neinu belongs to Chakhesang tribe.

Out of the four contenders, Zeliang belongs to the smaller tribe, while Wangnao is from the bigger tribe, Konyak. Even the Aye’s tribe, Sumi, is also quite big while Neinu’s is relatively smaller yet his tribe has four MLAs including him.

When the leadership tussles were going on among the contenders, a large number of legislators not only from the majority ruling NPF but allied BJP were in favor of Zeliang. Most of them were hopeful that he would be a better Chief Minister while not forgetting veteran Konyak strongman, Wangnao. For Wangnao, he had even spoken that he was prepared to take the baton if he was asked to do so by the party. He even dismissed rumors of his poor health and even going to the extent of declaring that he was asked by Rio that he should be prepared to take over from him (Rio) in the event of his leaving for Delhi.

The other contenders, Aye and Neinu, did also not lack leadership quality. They were also still meeting other NPF legislators and politicking was going on to become Chief Minister then.

Finally, a large number of NPF, BJP, Independent legislators rushed to Kaziranga and camped in a resort there. They all supported Zeliang’s candidature as a successor to Rio. Finally, he emerged as a leader and the other serious contenders like Wangnao and Aye also supported his leadership. All these exercises even with the intervention of State Speaker Chotisuh Sazo (now Minister) to bring the situation to normalcy by choosing Zeliang was, in no way, done on the line of tribal-color or majority-tribe or minority-tribe basis. He was chosen as a leader because majority agreed to support his candidature because of his leadership quality and caliber. Nobody talked tribe when he was chosen as leader of the NPF legislature party and later as leader of DAN legislature party. They only talked one thing at that point of time was that he would be the only capable leader to lead all of them for the larger interest of the people of Nagaland.

There were tall Naga leaders in the likes of late Shikiho Sema, former MP and ex-NPCC President and Chingwang Konyak, also former MP and ex-NPCC President - both nearly became Chief Minister of Nagaland. It was not easy as I could see the way politics going on. Infighting and rivals within the same party often occur weakening the party, sometimes beyond repair.

Defections and counter-defections were the order of the day till such time the new Anti-Defection Law came into force. So now at least two-thirds of the members of a party have to be in favor of a "merger" for it to have validity in the eyes of the law. "The merger of the original political party or a member of a House shall be deemed to have taken place if, and only if, not less than two-thirds of the members of the legislature party concerned have agreed to such merger," states the Tenth Schedule.

Sometimes, politics is not the Opposition and the Ruling fighting. It is the members of the same party fighting within themselves too, besides often enjoying strange bedfellows, and all these are only for a seat of power. Yet, there are exceptional politicians in this world and they set examples of leaderships.

Although he faced an unprecedented political crisis in early 2015 as his leadership was openly challenged by majority NPF legislators, Zeliang could successfully come out of that. His taking then eight Opposition Congress MLAs when his position plunged into the unprecedented crisis was a highest political maneuver. He survived the political storm but decimated Opposition completely in the State. That was how he proudly announced that he was running an “Opposition-less” Government in the State. He even told Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he along with the members of PWC met him (Modi) at Delhi that he could show him a “formula of how to run an Opposition-less Government” and in return, he should also show them a “formula for the solution to the Naga political issue.”

It was not politically advisable to run the affairs of the State without an Opposition. Such a system is harmful to the essence of democracy and making the voice of the people dead. The end result of such regime could be seen from the outcomes of the Assembly sessions in the State. The State Assembly had the dubious record of having the shortest session with 13 minutes. It had become a mockery. All these happened only because the Opposition Members were not there in the Assembly. In fact, Zeliang would not have faced the kind of public uproars asking his resignation on the moral ground for the unfortunate turn of events that took place on the night of 31 January 2017 had there been Opposition Members in the State. Because in the absence of Opposition Members, the people became the Opposition and such trend is extremely dangerous in a democratic country like ours.

Zeliang should not think that his political career ends by stepping down from his Chief Minister’s chair. There were many leaders in Nagaland who became Chief Ministers on many occasions even after the gap of many years. Look at 3rd Chief Minister of Nagaland, Hokishe Sema, who became Chief Minister in 1969 that he became again Chief Minister after 16 years in 1986. JB Jasokie became Chief Minister in 1975 for 11 days, that is, 10.03.1975 – 20.03.1975 but he came back to occupy the same chair after six years in 1980 and continued to remain till 16 September 1982. Even SC Jamir who became Chief Minister in 1980 for about two months came back to occupy the same chair in 1982-1986, 1989-1990, 1993-1998, 1998-2003. KL Chishi also served as Chief Minister for one month in 1990. When regional party leader Vamuzo was not an elected Member of the Assembly, he became Chief Minister of the Joint Legislature Party Government (Joint Congress I-NPC) from 19 June 1990 till 2 April 1992. Today, we have Dr. Shurhozelie, also not an elected Member of the Assembly, becomes Chief Minister of Nagaland replacing Zeliang. So, there were many such cases in Nagaland’s chequered career. He should not conclude that he could not become Chief Minister again. The politics never ends nor sleeps.

Before stepping down from the post of Chief Minister, Zeliang made several announcements that he did not want to use Central forces to intervene as such measure would only cause large scale causalities. He often said that leader would come and go and it is universally true and he should not think that his leaving the Chief Minister’s chair was on the majoritarian politics. In politics, as I always believe, numbers matter, and he is lucky that he had the numbers, besides enjoying confidence of them. What more he wanted than this in democracy when majority favored him to be their leader?

All he should know is that his becoming the 16th Chief Minister of Nagaland was not on the basis of minority or majority tribal card. He was chosen as leader because he was the tallest and capable politician at that point of time.

He should continue to show his tallest political image even if he steps down. This is what a leader should do, come what may. They should leave indelible footprints for posterity to study and emulate.

- Asian Tribune -

Nagaland Chief Minister TR Zeliang
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