Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland, three northeastern states of India are gearing up to cast their votes in the Legislative Assembly elections to be held early next year.
The Legislative Assemblies consists of 60 seats per state and play the role of electing the state’s Chief Minister, whereas the Parliamentary elections elect the country’s Prime Minister.
At present, Left Front is dominating the Tripura Assembly, while Congress has control of Meghalaya and Naga People’s Front (NPF) is ruling Nagaland.
Unlike mainstream India, the politics of the Northeastern states are very isolated and different to say the least. As it turns out, Congress or regional parties have been calling the shots there for a long time and effectively has left BJP little room to gain a firm foothold in the region.
However, last year BJP was able to break new ground by winning in the Legislative Assembly in Assam, followed by victories in both Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur this year.
In 2003, BJP was able to form a government in Arunachal Pradesh under the leadership of Gegong Apang. But it only survived a year, as legislators led by Apang defected to Congress. This subsequently caused the fall of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government in 2004.
It is safe to say, BJP has struggled ever since. But it seems, this time around the party is hoping to put in place a stable government.
The state of Meghalaya as it stands has been dominated by the Khasi, Jaintia and Garo tribes for a long time. The state is represented by 60-member assembly seats, with 29 for the Khasi Hills, 7 for the Jaintia Hills and 24 for the Garo Hills.
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In this picture taken on March 10, 2017, Indian supporters of the BJP attend a mass protest rally against the murder of senior BJP leader Chan Mohan Tripura in Agartala AFP
As of now, a coalition government called Meghalaya United Alliance (MUA) is being led by Congress with 30 legislators. Nine of whom are independent legislators, two from Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and one from North East Socialist Democratic Party (NESDP). These make up the alliance.
Overall, the MUA government holds a comfortable majority with 42 legislators. This number used to be 44 but saw a drop when two independents legislators defected to BJP last August.
It should be noted that BJP drew a blank by failing to win a single seat in Assembly elections in 2013 and polled a mere 1.27% votes. Given that in the past, cases of independent legislators defecting has been common, perhaps it is prudent to state the party’s position in the hill state of Meghalaya is still uncertain.
The state of Meghalaya is no stranger to political instability. As past Chief Ministers, with the exception of Williamson A Sangma and Mukul Sangma, have been unable to complete a full five-year term till date.
Similar to Meghalaya, Nagaland too is a predominantly Christian state and is run by a coalition between Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) and Naga People’s Front (NPF).
The party, with its 45 seats in the Legislative Assembly, is allied to BJP and Janata Dal (United) with 4 and 1 seat respectively. This alliance has been governing Nagaland since 2003.
The politics of Nagaland is very similar to Meghalaya and is rife with instability.
While most Chief Ministers have failed to fulfill a full five-year term in the past, Chief Ministers Hokishe Sema, S C Jamir and Neuphio Rio were the only ones to pull off full terms.
In the last Assembly elections held in 2013, the ruling NPF polled 47.04% votes, while BJP polled a paltry 1.75%. Notably, BJP captured only one seat, but a defection by 3 Nationalist Congress Party legislators helped step up its numbers.
It should also be noted, the Church plays a vital role in politics in the said Christian states and the beef ban has not helped BJP bolster its popularity.
The situation in Tripura is diametrically opposite and it is said the state is arguably the strongest bastion for the Left Front.
Tripura’s Legislative Assembly is comprised of 51 legislators belonging to the ruling Left Front. 7 legislators are from BJP and 2 from Congress. The incumbent BJP legislators were from Congress in the past and subsequently Trinamool Congress.
Both Meghalaya and Nagaland own a majority tribal population, whereas Tripura has a minority. Accordingly, 20 Scheduled Tribes (ST) seats are reserved in the Tripura Legislative Assembly.
These 20 seats are known as sheet anchors of electoral victory in Tripura’s political landscape. As of now, 19 of them are owned by the Left Front itself. BJP owns just one reserved seat.
Political analysts believe if BJP seeks to make a dent in all the reserved seats, it needs to form an alliance with local tribal political parties.
In the 2013 Assembly elections, CPI-(M), which spearheads the ruling Left Front government in Tripura, polled 48.11% votes. The remaining constituents of Left Front vis-à-vis CPI, Forward Bloc, RSP and SUCI polled 1.57%, 0.70%, 1.95%, 0.05% votes respectively. Congress and BJP polled 36.53% and 1.54% votes respectively.
Defections by seven legislators from Congress led to the rise of BJP here as well.
Analysts perceive that after assuming power following the closing of the polls in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, BJP is desperate to capture the Northeast.
BJP’s victory in Gujarat, home to the Indian Prime Minister, was not as stellar as expected. The party’s National President Amit Shah claimed it would sail through with 150 seats but managed only to win 99 seats, whereas in 2012, they had won 116 seats in Gujarat.
Wasbir Hussain, senior journalist and a keen observer of Northeast Indian issues has said, “BJP already has governments in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and partly Nagaland. This is suggestive of the party’s growing presence in the Northeast.
Therefore, it seriously wants to emerge victorious in those Northeastern states bound for polls next year…It is part of the ruling alliance in Nagaland as well. While in Tripura and Meghalaya, there is going to be a face-to-face contest between the ruling party and BJP. And if the party is able to make a clean sweep in any of these states next year, it would add a feather in its cap at the national platform as well.”