The story so far: The Election Commission kicked off a busy poll season with the announcement of the schedule for the first round of Assembly elections on Wednesday. The three northeastern States of Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya will open the poll battle, followed by Mizoram. Tripura will vote on February 16, while Meghalaya and Nagaland will go to the polls on February 27, with the counting of votes on March 2. The EC is yet to announce the poll schedule for Mizoram.
Besides the Northeast, polls are due in the key States of Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Telangana this year, in what is being touted as the semi-final before the mega final in 2024.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, which is looking to strengthen its presence in the Northeast, has switched to poll mode. At the recently held national executive meet in New Delhi, party president J.P. Nadda outlined the significance of the upcoming Assembly polls in nine States in the run-up to next year’s general elections and asked party workers to ensure BJP’s victory in all the contests.
Tripura: will BJP return to power?
In 2018, the BJP stormed to power in Tripura, wresting control from the Left Front which ruled the State for over two decades. The saffron party fought the election with the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) and the alliance secured a two-thirds majority in the 60-member House, winning 43 seats of which BJP bagged 35. The State is poised to witness an interesting four-corner contest this year.
While the BJP is leaving no stone unturned to retain power, the CPI(M) has joined hands with the Congress to recapture lost influence — a development that is being seen as a major shift in the political landscape of the State, considering that the two parties have been arch-rivals.
Defeating the BJP is a key priority for the alliance. “The people want to end the BJP’s rule and giving due respect to the people’s wish, we have decided to fight the election jointly. The number of seats is not important but the defeat of BJP is the main agenda,” said. CPI(M) State Secretary Jitendra Choudhury.
The BJP believes this alliance would be good for their party. “Earlier, they used to maintain cosy relations covertly, and now it will be in the open. The CPI(M) had ruled Tripura for 25 years because of the understanding with the Congress,” says BJP State President Rajib Bhattacharjee.
It is, however, is not taking the alliance lightly. Internal troubles have hit the party hard. Last year, BJP leader Biplab Kumar Deb stepped down and was replaced by Manik Saha following reports of his growing unpopularity. Seven MLAs also quit the alliance. Of these, the majority joined the Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance, or TIPRA Motha, which has emerged as a significant player given its influence on tribal constituencies. The outfit, led by Tripur royal scion and former Congress leader Pradyot Debbarma, is demanding a separate State for indigenous communities. Twenty seats are reserved for tribals in the State.
In the 2021 election to the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC), the TIPRA registered a stunning victory, winning 18 of the 28 seats — setting alarm bells ringing for the BJP. Ahead of the upcoming election, the Motha has announced its plans to contest 45-50 seats. The organisation has also stated that it will ally with any political party that gives a written assurance to support the demand for Greater Tipraland.
Meanwhile, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) is looking to strengthen its roots beyond West Bengal under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee. The party is in talks for tie-ups with “suitable parties” in Tripura. The party won 16.39 per cent of votes in the 2021 urban body election in the State, which it considered a sign of its growing popularity — a claim rejected by the BJP.
Nagaland: Naga political issue to cast a shadow on the election
The BJP and the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) are continuing with their pre-poll alliance for 2023. The two parties tied up for the first time for the 2018 Assembly poll. The alliance emerged victorious with a combined strength of 30 MLAs and was able to form the government with smaller parties. The current strength of the Nagaland Assembly is 59, with 41 NDPP MLAs and 12 BJP ones. There are two Independents, and one seat is vacant.
In the upcoming election, the NDPP will contest 40 seats while the BJP has been assigned the remaining 20. The election, however, is once again likely to be held under the shadow of Naga peace talks.
The Eastern Nagaland Peoples’ Organisation (ENPO) has threatened to boycott the poll, pressurising the government to fulfil its demand for a separate State. The organisation, which represents the Naga tribes inhabiting six of 16 districts, has been demanding the creation of Frontier Nagaland to be free from “decades of neglect”. The six districts are Kiphire, Longleng, Mon, Noklak, Shamator and Tuensang, which have 20 of the State’s 60 Assembly seats.
The Naga People’s Front (NPF), which has four MLAs in the outgoing assembly, has also said that an honourable solution to the Naga political issue is the priority of the party. Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, meanwhile, has asked “right-thinking” persons to pursue the issue following the rules, while saying that the government cannot allow any constitutional crisis in the State.
Meghalaya: NPP to go solo
In 2018, the National People’s Party (NPP) formed the Meghalaya Democratic Alliance with two allies — the United Democratic Party (UDP) and the BJP — after elections threw a hung verdict. Since then, a total of 18 MLAs have resigned from the 60-member Meghalaya House to change party colours. The current strength of the Meghalaya Assembly is 42.
All has not been well within the coalition. Relations between the NPP and minor ally BJP began souring after party leader Bernard N. Marak was arrested for allegedly turning his farmhouse into a brothel. The BJP accused the NPP of large-scale corruption and threatened to pull out of the alliance.
The two parties have not declared any pre-poll understanding so far, with less than two months to go for elections. The NPP has already announced candidates for 58 constituencies out of 60 seats in the Assembly. The UDP is also going solo this year.
The Trinamool Congress, which emerged as the main Opposition overnight following the defection of former CM Mukul Sangma and 11 other Congress legislators, is portraying itself as the sole alternative to the “proxy BJP government”, which Mamata Banerjee alleges is remote-controlled from Guwahati — a veiled attack on Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. The party is focussing on the Garo Hills region comprising 24 Assembly seats. Former CM Mukul Sangma belongs to this region.
Mizoram: BJP eyes the final frontier
Mizoram is the fourth northeastern State that is slated for elections this year. The State is also the final frontier for the BJP, which rules six of the “seven sisters”, either on its own or in alliance with regional parties.
In 2018, the BJP opened its account in the State for the first time with one seat and a vote share of 8 per cent, registering a huge jump over the 0.37% it had in 2013. The Mizo National Front (MNF) won 26 of the 40 seats, riding an anti-incumbency wave against the Congress. The MNF is a member of the BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) and an ally of the NDA at the Centre, but does not have any tie-up with the saffron party in the State. Presently, the MNF has 28 members, the main opposition party Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM) has six, Congress five and BJP one in the 40-member Assembly whose term ends on December 17.
Last year, the BJP emerged as the single-largest party in the 25-member Mara Autonomous District Council (MADC) polls in south Mizoram’s Siaha district, winning 12 seats. The party is now looking to strengthen its base in constituencies where ethnic minorities such as Brus and Chakmas are in the majority. The party plans to contest all 40 seats in the election, BJP State president Vanlalhmuaka said.
Meanwhile, the Aam Aadmi Party is also expected to jump into the poll fray in the State. The party plans to contest at least 25 seats.