The Aam Admi Party is keeping the BJP's central leadership on its toes for the Delhi state legislative assembly elections. Even while this great prestige issue – of winning the 'rajdhani' – has kept the BJP leadership's hands full, it has had to take out time to determine its role in the political mess in Nagaland.
It is a Catch 22 situation for the national party because they may have to shoulder the blame no matter what they opt to do. It has three choices – to vote in favour of the incumbent chief minister, TR Zeilang; to vote against him (and therefore former CM Neiphu Rio's rebel faction led by Zeilang’s former cabinet colleague Kaito Aye); or abstain while the Nagaland People's Front (NPF) settles an internal party conflict on the assembly floor ironically with the support of the Congress.
While it decides, the BJP's ally, Zeilang, has sought support from the Congress in Nagaland.
Till the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Neiphu Rio was the chief minister of Nagaland for 11 years, leading the Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN). Rio contested and won the sole Lok Sabha from Nagaland and had to vacate the CM's post. His party, NPF, was a supporter of the NDA and had announced its support for PM Narendra Modi, when the latter was announced as the BJP's prime ministerial candidate.
It is widely believed that Rio opted to become an MP hoping that he could secure a berth in Modi's cabinet – a dream that is yet to fructify.
On his way out, Rio installed Taditui Rangkhau Zeilang as the chief minister. The latter had been a planning minister in Rio’s cabinet and was a senior leader of the NPF. In 2014, allegations of a possible scam in Nagaland's oil block allotment surfaced which seemed to point in the direction of Zeilang.
Several Naga clans and groups alleged, with documents, that Zeilang had allotted a major oil exploration contract in Wokha Zone of Nagaland to a company with no credentials and a poor financial record. At least two different central agencies are sniffing around the allegations to see if there is any truth in them.
The Zeilang camp has pitched the idea that Rio and his loyalists publicized the alleged scam and the allegations against the CM to orchestrate a coup. They offered two reasons: Zeilang was independent of Rio's control and that Rio wanted to assume control of the state government once again since the PM had not given a position in the central government.
In December 2014, the conflict between Rio and Zeilang went beyond resolution. Rio-supported candidate, Kaito Aye, approached Nagaland Governor, PB Acharya, with 20 MLAs, calling for a floor test. The request was denied and these 21 MLAs (out of NPF's total 38 MLAs), along with MP Rio, camped in New Delhi to meet with the BJP leadership, which was already busy preparing for elections in Delhi.
Rio managed the support of four BJP MLAs and an independent, bringing the tally up to 26. Zeilang has 17 MLAs including the house speaker and the support of the single MLAs each of the NCP and the JD-U and seven independent MLAs bringing up his total to 26. The remaining eight of the 60-strong Nagaland assembly are from the Congress, which makes for the head turner in this political mess. These eight Congress MLAs are reportedly going to support Zeilang, a BJP ally, with a possibility of them later merging with Zeilang's NPF or the BJP at a later date.
The camps are also literally camping together to avoid any last-minute horse trading. Zeilang has kept his group in Kohima, while Rio has smuggled his 21 to his village and the Congress MLAs are reportedly in Guwahati.
When the four Nagaland BJP MLAs met the BJP’s central leadership, they were negotiating to support Rio, with a possibility of the BJP MLAs getting ministerial berths in the next NPF-led government. According to sources, when Rio and his crew of 'rebels' met with home minister Rajnath Singh, they were told that there would be no floor test and that BJP would support Rio. Things changed when Governor PB Acharya met with PM Narendra Modi, because he went back to Nagaland and called for a floor test.
At the time of filing of this article, the BJP’s national general secretary Ram Madhav said that the party would make and communicate its final decision on the night of February 4. Madhav refused to comment about the Zeliang faction of NPF seeking support from the Congress, saying that he did not know of it. However, on February 3, RSS leader and BJP’s national general secretary (organization) and in-charge for Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland, Prashant Arora, reportedly declared that the BJP would not vote.
However the BJP MLAs vote during the floor test, there is no question about their growing control over Nagaland politics.