Nagaland’s Opposition-Less Assembly Dashes JD(U)’s National Party Ambitions

Meanwhile, Sharad Pawar's NCP – learning from the bitter experience of defections in 2014 – has decided to support the Neiphiu Rio government despite having the opportunity to become the largest opposition party.

New Delhi: A quick turn of events after the recent elections in Nagaland has meant that the Northeastern state would remain – yet again – the only one in India not to have an opposition in the assembly.

While Nagaland shed the ignominious record of being the lone state not to have even one woman legislator since Independence, having an opposition-less assembly for the second consecutive term has only helped Nagaland add yet another inglorious chapter to its political history – achieved by undermining the electorate’s verdict. The Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP)-BJP alliance is set to form the government in Nagaland once again, with Neiphiu Rio as the chief minister.

At the root of this phenomenon is the sheer greed of the MLAs to join the government of the day and share the veritable pie of power. The bonhomie among politicians of all shades, though, is polished with lofty intentions for the public to consume – that such an arrangement is imperative to arrive at a solution with the Union government for the long-pending Naga peace talks.

If one term of an opposition-less house did not take the state any closer to the elusive Naga Accord, rest assured that this time will be no different. The politicians will pay lip service to the vexed Naga political question, which most Nagas want to be sorted once and for all.

JD(U) loses out

However, the biggest casualty of the decision of the newly elected MLAs to have an opposition-less Nagaland assembly is the Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United) [JD(U)]. The party, which till the other day was a bedfellow of the BJP, would have issued a letter of support to the BJP-NDPP alliance – if Nitish had not walked out of the NDA in mid-2022. By that logic, the lone JD(U) MLA in the Nagaland assembly should not be seen anywhere near the treasury benches.

Alas! A statement issued on March 8 by the JD(U) general secretary Afaque Ahmad Khan revealed the contrary. “The central party came to know that the Nagaland State President (N.S.N. Lotha) of our party gave a letter of support to the chief minister of Nagaland without consulting the central party, it is high indiscipline and arbitrary.” Therefore, the parent party had decided to dissolve the Nagaland State committee “with immediate effect”.

For observers of Nagaland’s politics though, it is but a moment of déjà vu. In the 2018 Nagaland assembly elections too, the JD(U) had pocketed one assembly seat and received 4.6% of the total vote share. But in 2019, the lone MLA, G. Kaito Aye, quit the party to become a minister in the Rio government. That nullified the JD(U)’s presence in the assembly.

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar. Photo: PTI /Kamal Singh

Even after that setback, the party had reasons to be ambitious in the Northeast. Having made electoral progress to be recognised as a state party in Arunachal Pradesh (winning seven seats in 2019) and Manipur (six seats in 2022), the otherwise Bihar-based party was seemingly expanding eastward. All it needed was to corner at least 6% of the valid vote share in another state to be recognised as a national party.

As per the rules of the Election Commission, a party needs to have members in at least four state assemblies to be declared as having national stature, aside from having two Lok Sabha MPs.

The JD(U) already had representatives in Bihar, Arunachal and Manipur and therefore needed only a single seat in Nagaland. Therefore, party insiders in Nagaland had told local media persons in the run-up to the assembly elections that the JD(U) would contest at least 20 seats in the 2023 polls – it eventually contested just seven. Not for nothing, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar paid a visit to Dimapur in October 2022.

However, its state president Lotha’s decision to back the party MLA Jwenga Seb’s support to the NDPP-BJP alliance has dashed the ambitious hope of the JD (U). According to some state BJP insiders, Seb’s move was at the behest of its state unit. If that claim holds any truth, then it may well be collateral damage from the famous fallout of the JD(U)-BJP alliance in Bihar.

NCP goes the other way

Yet another party that faced was faced with a dilemma after the newly elected MLAs decided to have an opposition-less assembly is the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The results showed that surprisingly, the NCP was the largest ‘opposition party’, winning seven seats. It left behind the Congress and the once formidable Naga People’s Front (NPF).

Yet, Pawar chose to support the Rio government on March 8. This is because none knows better than the veteran politician that if you can’t beat them, you better join them. No doubt, he would have come to this conclusion after his party’s scalding experience in mid-2014 in Nagaland. All the three MLAs of his party in that assembly, which also included NCP state unit president Imtilemba Sangtam, decided to support the then NPF-BJP alliance government.

Significantly, those three MLAs shifting base from the NCP to the BJP helped the national party magnify its base from just one seat (Tizit) to four overnight.

Edited by Amrit B.L.S.