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EC announces polls in Meghalaya, Nagaland & Tripura: Here’s a look at the battlegrounds

Akash Bisht | Updated on: 18 January 2018, 18:35 IST
(STRDEL/AFP)

The Election Commission on Thursday announced the dates for the two phased Assembly elections in the north eastern states of Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland. The voters in Tripura would exercise their franchise on 18 February while elections will be held in Nagaland and Meghalaya on 27 February.

The much-anticipated polls come at a time when the BJP is looking to expand its presence in the North-East where the saffron party and its allies have governments in three states. With these elections, BJP is hoping to increase the tally to six states which would be a major boost for the party in the run up to the 2019 General Elections.

These elections are also an acid test for the Congress which is hoping to regain Meghalalya where BJP has been making significant inroads by poaching several sitting MLAs and prominent Christian figures. In the remaining two states, Congress does not have much stake but it would still want to end as the second largest party.

Tripura

The toughest fight amongst all these states is expected to be in Tripura where the Left Front government has been in power for the last 25 years with the incumbent chief minister Manik Sarkar looking for a fifth consecutive term. After having ruled the state for the last 25 years without much opposition, the Left Front for the first time in these many years is facing stiff competition from the BJP which has made significant inroads in the region ever since the saffron party went on to win the Assam elections in 2016.

In fact, in the last few months, there has been a spurt in clashes between the supporters of the two parties which has left hundreds injured. 2017 has witnessed the highest number of political violence in the state with nearly 200 cases of clashes between various political parties leading to death of six political activists and hundreds of party offices being ransacked. Recently, on 7 January, on the day of BJP President Amit Shah’s visit to the state, BJP and CPM workers clashed leading to more than 8 people being injured.

Meanwhile, Congress has become a mere spectator in these polls which reflected in how the party has been reduced to only two legislators after winning 10 seats in 2013. All these legislators have joined BJP which has become the main opposition party in the state despite not winning a single seat in 2013.

In fact, Trinamool Congress had earlier taken the role of the main Opposition party after it managed to poach six of Congress legislators who later went on to join BJP. These elections are an acid test for the Left Front government which is seeking to yet again win one of the last remaining Communist bastions in India.

On the ground, the ruling party faces real challenge from BJP in the plains and Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT), a tribal outfit, in the hills. IPFT has been fighting for a separate tribal state, Twipraland, for the last few decades which distanced them from BJP.

However, Prime MInister Narendra Modi recently met an IPFT delegation who has apparently mollified the leadership on talks for a state council rather than Twipraland.
If IPFT joins hands with the BJP, it could emerge as a serious challenger to the Left Front government. If the saffron party manages to form government in Tripura, it would be a major shot in the arm for the party that till the last elections failed to win even a single seat in the state.

Nagaland

Meanwhile, there is a lot of confusion over whether the ruling Naga People’s Front (NPF) will continue to support the BJP considering the party’s CEC had passed a resolution on 18 July to sever all ties with the BJP. The NPF leadership was increasingly getting wary of BJP trying to form its own government in the state much like it did in Arunachal Pradesh.

One of the oldest anti-Congress parties, NPF first reached a political understanding with the Janata Party in 1977. This laid the foundation for the party’s friendship with BJP in the years to come.

However, BJP has been hinting at having an alliance with a new regional party, Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP), and it became clear after three time chief minister and NPF leader Neiphu Rio quit the party. It is likely that he could join NDPP and be the joint chief minister candidate.

Moreover, there is a leadership tussle within the NPF with incumbent chief minister TR Zeliang and former chief minister Shurhozelie Leizeitsu. Latter is of the opinion that BJP is trying to break NPF while Zeilang is a BJP sympathiser. BJP wanted Zeliang to join the party but he denied citing how the saffron party would not be able to win many seats in the Christian dominated state.

Meanwhile, NPF leadership suggested the possibility of the July decision of severing ties with BJP being reviewed later by the CEC. Much of BJP’s and NPF’s prospects would depend on the decision of the CEC which is likely to shape the state politics in the days to come.

However, a split would become imminent if the party severs ties with BJP which will charge up the political scene in the state.

Meghalaya

Another Christian dominated state that goes to poll is Meghalaya where Congress would hope to form the government for yet another term. The BJP has successfully managed to make inroads into the Congress bastions in the North-East, having won Assam and Manipur and conducting a political coup in Arunachal Pradesh. However, its juggernaut might hit a roadblock in poll-bound Meghalaya.

Here the Christian community, which forms over 70% of the state’s population, is apprehensive about the BJP due to the attack on minorities in other parts of the country, in particular the attack on carol singers in Madhya Pradesh and the violence by cow vigilantes across India.

Christians feel the BJP could try to saffronise the state by interfering in their food habits and pushing their Hindutva agenda. This could be a major deterrent for the Christian voters who might even avoid voting for other Opposition parties like NPP that are part of the North-East Democratic Alliance. The main fight in Meghalaya is said to be between the Congress and National People’s Party (NPP), headed by former Lok Sabha Speaker PA Sangma’s son Conrad Sangma.

With a spike in incidents of attacks on Christians across the country, the fate of Congress and Opposition parties would depend on who the majority community votes for. However, political analysts do not rule out the possibility of a Manipur-like situation where BJP formed the government despite Congress emerging as the single largest party.

There is a possibility of BJP entering into an alliance with other regional parties and wooing Congress MLAs and independents to its fold to deliver yet another blow to the grand old party that is slowly losing its political relevance in the region.

First published: 18 January 2018, 18:35 IST
 
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