The Nagaland assembly election has the promise of an interesting contest as Neiphiu Rio, the state's longest serving chief minister who is looking for a record fifth term in office, will face a novice in the political arena.
The fight will be a straight one in which Congress candidate Seyievilie Sachu, for whom the February 27 poll will be his first outing in the state election, has thrown a challenge to the 72-year-old political giant.
37-year-old Sachu is upbeat about the apparent unequal contest against a man of Rio's stature, who has been at the centre of the state's politics for over two decades.
Rio had won the prestigious Northern Angami seat unanimously in 2018 and will contest from the seat this time too.
Asked about his decision to enter into a contest against no less a person than the chief minister, Sachu said many people, including own family members, were initially against it.
"They said that I cannot match Rio who is already established politically and financially," he said.
Many people had also initially expressed scepticism that he would eventually withdraw from the contest and said that he has joined the fray for personal benefits.
But many people are now supporting him, claims Sachu, who has campaigned in almost all the 33 villages of the constituency.
“If there is a free and fair contest without any inducement, people will vote for change,” he said.
Sachu said he decided to throw his hat into the ring out of his concern for the welfare of the people and to fight against the policy of providing help only to close aides of Rio. "I wanted to stand and fight for the rights of the neglected citizens of the constituency who are at the grassroot level," he said.
He feels there is also the need for replacing the leadership and young leaders should come forward to change the entire political dynamics of the state.
“If there is a free and fair contest without any inducement, people will vote for change,” Sachu said.
Asked, he said the voters of the constituency had expected development of all villages of the constituency as well as welfare for its people.
But the constituency has not witnessed much development, he claimed. "The rich are becoming richer and the poor are being neglected under Rio's leadership".
While there is an increase in the number of educated youths, they do not find job avenues either in the government or in the private sectors in the state. "I want to create job opportunities for them and also provide a secure environment for the elderly,” Suchu said.
He had joined Congress in 2008 as its youth wing president of the constituency and later became the Kohima District Youth Congress Committe in 2016. Sachu was elevated as vice-president of the district Congress committee in 2019.
Rio interacting with reporters recently said, “This is democracy and it depends on the political party. This being an election I respect any candidate”.
The chief minister is the second richest candidate among the total 183 in the fray in the state. He owns total assets valued at Rs 46.95 crore, while Sachu has assets worth Rs 18 lakh, according to declarations to the Election Commission.
Rio's political career has had its share of ups and downs. He first contested the state election in 1987 as an Independent but was defeated. He then joined Congress and was elected in 1989. He quit the party in 2002 and joined the Naga Peoples' Front (NPF). He revived the cock symbol of the NPF and defeated the Congress regime of S C Jamir in 2003 to become the chief minister.
Thereafter Rio remained in office for three consecutive terms till 2013. In 2014 he won the Lok Sabha election.
However, his stint in Parliament was a short lived as he returned to state politics and joined the newly formed Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party. He became the chief minister for the fourth time in 2018.