Nagaland chief minister TR Zeliang has perfected the art of survival in the short spell of a year. He may not have the charisma of former chief ministers like SC Jamir and Hokishe Sema but when in January this year, 22 of his 38 Naga People&’s Front members rebelled against him, he let it be known that he was no pushover. So much so that on 5 February, in the exciting trial of strength on the floor of the assembly, Zeliang proved his majority not only did the dissidents vote for him but also the entire eight-member Congress opposition supported him, perhaps in exchange for certain concessions.
So when Zeliang reshuffled and expanded his ministry early this month, the Congress members drifted from their leaders’ stand of total opposition to the government that has BJP members and joined the Zeliang government. According to them it was a “tactical” move to prevent a “constitutional crisis”.
Congress legislature party chief Tokheho Yepthomi was sworn in as a minister and former Nagaland Congress chief, Imtisungeet Jamir was made adviser to the chief minister. A BJP member was given a ministerial post. All this despite the BJP&’s big “no” to taking part in any government that has a Congress member. No one should be in doubt that the Congress, out of power since 2003, has no chance of ever bouncing back to power in the near future. So its members did the right thing at the right time getting power and pelf but a government without any opposition is not a healthy sign for democracy.
Zeliang is an experienced politician. He served as the lieutenant of regionalist chief minister Vamuzo in the early 1990s and later defected to the Congress under Jamir, and always maintained a low profile, as most Zeliangs do. That way he was considered a lightweight and too modest, or even weak, to be considered for the chief minister&’s post. He was propped up by Neiphiu Rio who gave up his 11-year-old chief ministership to contest in the 2014 general election. But, curiously, when dissidents were up against Zeliang he sided with the former.
Zeliang first won from Tening in 1989 as a candidate of the Naga People&’s Council (it later merged with the Naga People&’s Front) and subsequently in 1993, 1998 and 2003 as a Congress candidate and served as a minister of state under Jamir. In 2003, Zeliang defected along with six other Congress MLAs and formed the Nagaland Congress only to merge with the Rio-led Naga People&’s Front. From 2004 to 2008 he was the Rajya Sabha member from Nagaland. On his return to state politics he was made a minister under Rio. In the sharply tribal-oriented politics, Zeliang has to tread cautiously.