Kohima, Mar 2
Nagaland political stalwart and its longest serving chief minister Neiphiu Rio is set to assume office as chief minister for a fifth consecutive term after a convincing win for his party and its ally, the BJP.
Together, the two parties have secured 33 seats in the 60-member Nagaland assembly.
The septuagenarian leader has with this victory, broken the record of veteran leader SC Jamir, who helmed the northeastern state thrice.
Mr Rio personally defeated Congress' Seyievelie Sachu, a greenhorn in the political arena, in the Northern Angami II constituency, in the process helping reduce the influence of the grand old party in the state where at one time it was entrenched.
Born into an Angami Naga family on November 11, 1950, he received his early education at Kohima's Baptist English School and then went on to study at the Sainik School, Purulia in West Bengal. He later studied at St Joseph's College, Darjeeling and came back to finish his graduation from Kohima Arts College.
An active student leader during his school and college days, Mr Rio entered politics at a very young age. He began his nearly five decade long political career as the president of the youth wing of the United Democratic Front in Kohima district in 1974 and later became its Nagaland president.
Of the eight state elections he has contested so far, Mr Rio lost only the first one in 1987. He had fought the election then as an Independent aspirant.
His political career took an upswing from his second attempt just two years later in 1989, which he made after joining Congress.
There was no looking back for him after that first tentative victory and Mr Rio went on to win the subsequent polls. He served his state in various capacities, including being the home minister in SC Jamir's ministry till 2002.
That year he, however, quit Congress and was instrumental in reviving the cock symbol of Naga People's Front (NPF).
Mr Rio managed to dethrone Mr Jamir and became the chief minister for the first time in 2003. He was, however, dismissed as chief minister when President's Rule was imposed in the state in January 2008.
In the next election two months later his party emerged as the single largest one and Mr Rio, was invited to form the government as the leader of NPF-led Democratic Alliance of Nagaland.
In the next state election in 2013, NPF won a thumping majority and he was re-elected as chief minister for the third term.
He continued in the post till 2014 when he decided to resign and venture to the national Parliament. He used to tell reporters that his desire to join national politics stemmed from a "need" to be the voice of his people to press the Centre for an early solution to the Naga peace talks.
Nonetheless, he resigned from the Lok Sabha on February 9, 2018 and returned to state politics.
With the brewing internal differences within his then home party - the NPF, he joined the newly formed Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP).
He was chosen to be the NDPP leader and managed to break the then alliance partnership between NPF and BJP. Mr Rio, a master strategist, then contested the 2018 state general elections with a pre-poll agreement with the saffron party.
The alliance won 30 seats - 18 by the regional party and 12 by the saffron party and formed the government with the support of 2 NPP MLAs, one from JD(U) and an Independent MLA ending the 15-year reign of NPF in the state.
H A Hongnao Konyak, vice-president, Konyak Union (KU), attributed Rio's sustained victory at electoral politics to his expertise at forging alliances.
"He knows that that his party may not be able to sail through on its own. Hence, he enters into carefully thought out alliances.
"Even this time, he continued the alliance with the party in power at the Centre and made them concede majority seats to his NDPP," Mr Konyak told PTI.
This time too, the NDPP-BJP pre-poll alliance has contested the Nagaland poll on the same of 40:20 seat-sharing formula as in 2018 with the understanding that Rio will be the face of its new government. PTI