The NPF emerged the single-largest party with 27 seats, the NDPP has 17, BJP 12, Nationalist People’s Party (NPP) 2, JD(U) 1, and one independent – 37-year-old Tongpang Ozukum who defeated the working president of the NDPP and former Chief Secretary Alemtamshi Jamir.
A hung mandate has the BJP firmly in the driver’s seat in Nagaland. As the counting day threw up a photo finish Saturday with neither the Naga People’s Front (NPF) nor the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) crossing the half way point, the BJP – with 12 seats it contested with the NDPP – can now choose to ally with either party to form government. The NPF emerged the single-largest party with 27 seats, the NDPP has 17, BJP 12, Nationalist People’s Party (NPP) 2, JD(U) 1, and one independent – 37-year-old Tongpang Ozukum who defeated the working president of the NDPP and former Chief Secretary Alemtamshi Jamir.
While the BJP is part of the government with the NPF, it chose to contest elections with the NDPP led by former chief minister Neiphiu Rio. The NPP and the JD(U) had sent letters of support favouring Chief Minister and NPF chief TR Zielang to Governor PB Acharya on March 1. This leaves the NPF allies with 30 seats while the the BJP-NDPP combine tally stood at 29.
While senior leaders warned that the state’s politics could change by Sunday morning in terms of the alliances. “Despite the letters of support they gave to the Governor, there was no formal seat sharing agreement among the JD(U), NPP and NPF. The JD(U) is a national ally and is in government with the BJP in Bihar. The NPP wants to ally with the BJP in Meghalaya. So both will also have an interest to ally here, and then there is the independent candidate who can be won over. It is the BJP that is in charge of the election at this stage,” a senior BJP leader said.
Union Minister and BJP leader in charge of Nagaland, Kiren Rijiju, even said, “The BJP will form the government in Nagaland with the help of other parties. The NPF has already passed a resolution on alliance with the BJP… The BJP has been working with the agenda of development and will continue to do so in Nagaland too,” he said.
Over the past few months, while NPF president Shurozelie Lizietsu has seemed averse to allying with the BJP, Chief Minister Zeliang has kept the door open to an alliance. On Saturday, he repeatedly said the BJP was still part of the NPF government – where two ministers are from the BJP.
Senior leaders of both parties said talks were on between the NPF and the BJP, and that while Ram Madhav was already in Dimapur, Rijiju was expected to meet NPF leaders on Sunday. Sebastian Zumvu, senior leader of the NPF said, “We believe that the BJP will choose to ally with us to provide a stable government in Nagaland. In Nagaland this is very important. Kiren Rijiju will hold talks with our senior leadership tomorrow.”
In a state where political loyalties are notoriously fickle, an NPF-BJP combine will see 39 seats, as opposed to just shading past the thirty seats mark even if the NDPP-BJP alliance were to cobble together some extra numbers from the JDU or the NPP and the independent candidate.
A senior NDPP official confirmed to The Indian Express that they were in talks with the independent, Tongpang Ozukum and also expected the JDU and the NPP to work with the BJP-NDPP alliance, but admitted that the party was a little worried.
“We have not done as well as our internal assessment had said. Our reports had a minimum of 21 for the NDPP, and getting below that has reduced our bargaining power. We still hope to form the government, but it is up to the BJP. From our perspective, we are telling them that even in seats where the BJP on, it did so because NDPP supporters backed them, and they can’t turn their back on us, or it would be a political embarrassment, campaigning with one, and forming government with the other. After all, change is coming was our motto,” he said.
Meanwhile, despite Awan Konyak of the NDPP leading from the Aboi constituency for much of the morning, she eventually lost to her NPF opponent Eshak Konyak, meaning Nagaland is still to elect a woman to the Assembly. The four other women in the fray finished a distant third or fourth in their constituencies.