The reason that Assembly elections to Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya assume significance is because their results will set the tone for polls in other states this year and decide the political fortunes of major parties in the fray.
The Election Commission on Thursday announced the dates for Assembly elections to the north-eastern states of Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya. All three states go to polls in a single phase. While Tripura votes on February 18, voters shall cast their ballot in Nagaland and Meghalaya on February 27. The model code of conduct kicks in from today and the verdict of polls to all three states will be declared on March 3.
The announcement of polling dates is not just significant to the electorate for the choice they make for the next five years, it is also relevant on the national stage. There is also a lot at stake for political parties in the fray. All major parties – the BJP, the Congress and the Left see these polls as a make or break. Another reason that these polls assume significance is because the results will set the tone for elections to other states through the year and decide the political fortunes of these parties – Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Mizoram go to polls later in 2018.
With a strength of 60 members each, the terms of the Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura assemblies end on March 6, March 13 and March 14, respectively. With election preparations already in full flow, here is a look at how the parties stack up going into the polls.
Tripura – Will CPI(M) hold on to bastion?
The polls scheduled for February 18 could prove to be a test of resilience for the Manik Sarkar-led CPI(M) government in the state. The state is among the last-held Communist bastions which it has managed to hold on to for 25 years now, with Manik Sarkar running for his fifth consecutive term as Chief Minister. In the last three elections, the CPI(M) got 49, 46 and 38 seats in the 60-member Assembly.
While governments in Tripura have traditionally oscillated between the Left and the Congress party, the electoral test this time around promises to be of a different kind. For, it is for the first time that the CPI(M) sees a direct contest with the Bharatiya Janata Party in the state. The saffron party, which has hardly been in contention in Tripura in the past, has established its hold as the principal opposition to the decades-long Left rule. It has tied up with the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), a decision that the Left has criticised for the latter’s origins based on demands for the separation of Tripura. Aligning with the IPFT, the CPI(M) says, would only legitimise separatism.
The Congress, which has ruled the state for a considerable period – 1963-1971, 1972-1977 and 1992-1993 – has diminished in influence despite giving the CPM a close run. In the last elections, the Congress won 10 seats in the 60-member Assembly, while the CPI had to settle for a solitary seat.
Nagaland – Will uncertainty prove a boon for BJP?
The ruling alliance of the BJP and the Naga Peoples Front and the JD(U) is on the brink of an official break-up, the state has been under President’s rule on four occasions and political defections in many ways characterise the state’s polity. A series of ups and downs that the state has seen in the past years makes the outcome even more interesting.
The TR Zeliang-led NPF dominates the state in alliance with the BJP. The party won 45 seats in the last elections, the BJP -four and the JD(U) one seat to form the coalition government in the state. The NCP won a solitary seat while Independents bagged nine. As things stand now, the JD(U) has decided to fight elections on its own, the NPF has decided to break ranks with the BJP over seat-sharing and former Nagaland CM Neiphiu Rio has decided to part ways with the NPF. To float his own outfit.
Amid the wrangling, the BJP senses an opportunity with the Congress losing ground as the principal opposition party in the state. Moreover, there are ample indications that the BJP could forge an alliance with Rio’s new outfit. The BJP’s pro-Hindu image could emerge as its biggest challenge in the Christian majority state.
Meghalaya – The battle BJP never won
In its 46-year-old political history, the state has never seen the BJP emerge as a formidable force in Meghalaya. The state, currently under the rule of incumbent CM Mukul Sangma, who leads the Meghalaya United Alliance government, will be a test of character for the Congress against the BJP. With PM Narendra Modi’s “Act East” policy of development for the northeast and the party pumping in significant resources for its campaign in the state, the Congress may find the battle one to reckon with. In the last elections in 2013, the Congress lead with wins in 29 seats, followed by 8 for the UDP, four for the HSPDP and two for the NPP and NCP each.
The National People’s Party led by James Conrad which is a constituent of the BJP-led coalition at the Centre has not entered into a pre-poll alliance with the party. It has, however, kept the options for a post-poll alliance open. In a state where the BJP has never won an election, it will be banking on wins in Shillong City, Jaintia and Garo hills. An alliance with the NPP post polls could take it beyond the halfway mark in the 60-member assembly. In the 2013 polls, the BJP had won no seats in the state.
Congress leader Mukul Sangma, who has ruled the state as CM since 2010 is the party’s hope in the face of anti-incumbency. A loss here will further decimate the party to governments in just three states. Issues such as corruption in mining and the subsequent ban by the NGT has hurt people’s livelihoods and could impact the results.