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In Focus

Posted at: Feb 12, 2018, 1:18 AM; last updated: Feb 12, 2018, 1:18 AM (IST)NORTHEAST POLLS: MEGHALAYA, NAGALAND & TRIPURA

THE THREE ONE-DAY SERIES

Hitherto neglected, the Northeast is now at the centrestage of national politics, mainly because of the BJP’s expansionist strategies through its star campaigner PM Modi. Will his ‘Look East’ appeal persuade the people of Northeast to eschew their ethnic identities and local issues? Bijay Sankar Bora examines the current political dynamics of the three states.

AS the three northeastern states - Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya - go to polls this month, all eyes are fixed on Tripura, the last bastion of the Left in the region. Tripura is the first to have the assembly election on February 18 followed by Nagaland and Meghalaya on February 27. Incumbents in the three states are expecting major challenges from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is making aggressive political campaigns in the Bengali-Hindu majority Tripura as well as Christian-dominated tribal states of Nagaland and Meghalaya.

The BJP has managed to make the fast inroad into Tripura by taking advantage of the Congress’ depleting base, besides forging alliance with a prominent tribal group. However, the saffron party has to play second fiddle to influential regional parties in Christian states of Nagaland and Meghalaya.

TRIPURA

It remains to be seen if four-time Chief Minister Manik Sarkar could once again lead the Left Front to power in Tripura, banking on his ‘clean image’ and overcoming the stiff challenge posed by the BJP and its ally Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT). The Congress has already been relegated to the background after about 80 per cent of its leaders had joined the BJP. 

There could be anti-incumbency against the CPI-M led Left Front’s government in the state as it has been ruling Tripura uninterrupted since 1993 including four terms under incumbent CM Sarkar. 

This time, the BJP is contesting 51 out of the total 60 seats leaving nine ST seats to its ally IPFT. The CPI-M is contesting in 57 seats and its ally CPI, RSP and Forward Bloc are contesting in one seat each. Congress presence in 60 seats amounts to tokenism after Rahul Gandhi had announced that there would be hardly any contest with the Left front.

The BJP which charges the Left front government with corruption, inefficiency and lopsided development, has persuaded its ally IPFT to drop its demand for a separate state (Twipraland) to allay apprehension among majority Bengali Hindu voters in non-tribal belt that has 40 seats. 

Sakar has called for rejection BJP for aligning with separatist IPFT terming the detrimental to peace in Tripura.

NAGALAND

In the backdrop of brewing tension over the ‘still being awaited’ final solution to the vexed Naga political problem, election is being held in Nagaland ignoring oppositions from civil society groups backed by rebels including the NSCN-IM who want solution before polls. 

‘Final solution to Naga problem and upholding Naga identity’ is being promised by all political parties in Nagaland where winning polls depend much on the ability of the parties and their candidates to win over the local village council chief as well as the local self-styled commander of the underground rebel groups, which officially maintain indifference to ‘Indian elections’.

The BJP has snapped its 15-year-old alliance with the ruling Naga People’s Front (NPF) to forge poll alliance with newly-formed Nationalist Democratic People’s Party (NDPP) led by former chief minister and Lok Sabha MP, Neiphiu Rio who quit NPF just before joining NDPP. The BJP will contest in 20 Assembly seats while the NDPP in the rest 40 seats.

The BJP’s poll in-charge, Kiren Rijiju, however, claims that the BJP would continue with its `friendship’ with NPF thereby leaving the option open for post-poll ties with the NPF, if required.

Rio is the CM’s face in the BJP-NDPP alliance while the NPF is contesting alone with incumbent CM, TR Zeliang as its CM candidate. 

The Congress that used to rule the roost in Nagaland, has been reduced to a virtual non-entity in Nagaland as most of its leaders have either joined the NPF and the BJP over the years.

MEGHALAYA

Meghalaya is one of the two states where Congress is in power in the northeast. Faced with a strong-anti-incumbency factor, Chief Minister Mukul Sangma hopes for possible division of votes among opposition parties to be able to hold onto the power. He has been ruling the state for the second consecutive term.

The Congress accuses the BJP of trying to impose alien culture in the tribal state and win over the church by granting close to Rs 70 crore renovation fund just before announcement of polls. The BJP counters stating that the funds have been given to churches under ‘Swadesh Darshan’ scheme of the central government. 

Other prominent parties in the fray include the National People’s Party (NPP), the United Democratic Party (UDP), the Hill State People’s Democratic Party (HSPDP) and the newly formed People’s Democratic Front (PDF).

Though the BJP and the NPP are allies in Manipur and in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Delhi, the two haven’t forged a formal alliance in Meghalaya apprehending rejection of NPP by Christian voters in the event of ties with the BJP. However, the Congress has been accusing both of them having covert alliance. The UDP and the HSPDP have forged a formidable pre-poll alliance. In such a situation the division votes become imminent.

The BJP is ready to play junior role to the NPP in post-poll scenario that may be marred by a fractured mandate, a trend in the state since 1972. In the event of another fractured mandate, the regional parties will call the shots in government formation this time.

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