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Why is Neiphiu Rio the smartest of them all?

Neiphiu Rio

Nirendra Dev
NEW DELHI, FEBRUARY 10: The ‘messy affairs’ of Naga politics is not unknown to many given the complexity brought about by the use of money power and the push and pull amongst various underground factions and the overriding impact on the State machinery.
The elections in 2023 are not far off. Thus, it is only natural that in the backdrop of these developments, hectic lobbying and other activities have begun.
Former Chief Minister TR Zeliang, now almost the ‘face’ of NPF, as the veteran Dr. Shürhozelie is aging by the day, has managed for himself the ‘chairmanship’ of the NDPP-led UDA.
Who has gained the most, or to be precise between Zeliang and Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, who has the last laugh?
Both these leaders were friends, compatriots in united NPF during pre-2014 days, and later turned foes.
When Dr. Shürhozelie announced in 2017 that TR Zeliang will be the chief ministerial face of the NPF, Rio called up the regional stalwart and said this was “not acceptable” to him. The NDPP was already in the making by then.
Now, as the NPF managed a ministership for a Konyak legislator, YM Yollow Konyak, and UDA chairmanship for Zeliang; the former CM was too glad to tweet.
“I wish him a fruitful and successful tenure as he carries out his (Yollow Konyak) new assignment. Gratitude to Hon’ble CM Shri Neiphiu Rio for the magnanimity”, he wrote.
The words count a lot.
Neiphiu Rio was once a die-hard admirer and trusted lieutenant of shrewd neta, Dr. SC Jamir.
The former CM and ex-Governor of Odisha, Maharashtra, Goa and Gujarat (importantly) is hailed for his political skills and several famous games of chess wherein he humbled old rivals like the regionalist Vamuzo and another veteran Congressman, Hokishe Sema.
But Jamir met his nemesis in Neiphiu Rio. Nagaland political watchers are in for a fun time ahead as the stage is being set for a new ‘Dangor Ladai’ (great war) of 2023.
Actually, the game has already begun.
The ‘merger’ between NDPP and NPF now looks imminent and perhaps Zeliang has been moved out of race for ‘re-united NPF’ presidentship. Rio may replace DR. Shürhozelie as the new NPF chief. Whether NDPP will still exist under another old hand Chingwang Konyak remains a guessing game though.
As of now, the BJP’s moves are not clear.
What would Rio really gain as the organisational head of re-united NPF?
One reading is ~ maybe next time the BJP in Manipur comes reaching out to the NPF (to form the Government in Imphal) after March 10; it will be Rio who would be negotiating.
The NPF legislators and the sitting LokSabha MP, Lorho S Pfoze, will be important stakeholders though, but as organisational head of the party, Rio would be in “better position” to interact with his two counterparts N Biren Singh and Himanta Biswa Sarma.
So, in making TR Zeliang the new Chairman of the UDA; Rio has played a master stroke. Others have simply followed a scripted road map.
But some of his detractors have reached out to their contacts in Delhi and say the Chief Minister is only displaying his ‘desperation’.
“He is now an Angami soldier in a tearing hurry”, remarked one key leader during his interaction with some central leaders.
The incumbent Rio, once a Congressman, and who has known people like Mamata Banerjee and also Rajnath Singh, has survived till now.
But, as they say, the clamour for change is actually not unusual, especially among Naga voters as they had humbled the likes of Hokishe Sema in 1993 and also SC Jamir in 2003.
Veteran Jamir is still around us. He had also lost the by-election in the Aonglenden Assembly segment in 2011. In the 2013 Assembly elections, Jamir did campaign but the Congress strength was reduced to a single digit of 8. Now it’s zero.
In politics, most journeys do reach their dead end. Often common people can see that more clearly than political stalwarts.