The “unknown” factor may make a political party from Bihar the dark horse in Nagaland.
The Naga People’s Front (NPF) and Congress, two parties that ruled Nagaland for a combined 31 years, struggled to find candidates for the February 27 Assembly polls in the State. The former managed to field 22 candidates while the latter has 23 in the fray after two candidates withdrew, one of them helping the BJP’s Kazheto Kimini win the Akuluto constituency unopposed.
But the Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas), which flew in a month ahead of the Nagaland polls, had it easy finding candidates. Almost all of its 16 candidates were denied tickets by the ruling Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) and its minor ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Four of the LJP (RV) candidates are MLAs who switched over from the NPF to the NDPP in April 2022. Another candidate, Longrineken won the Jangpetkong constituency on a BJP ticket in 2018.
The LJP (RV) candidates are among Nagaland’s wealthiest politicians. But what has set tongues wagging is that the Bihar-based party is contesting the seats where the NDPP has candidates.
The NDPP is contesting 40 seats and the BJP the remaining 20 according to a seat-sharing formula.
Y. Vikheho Awomi, the LJP (RV) candidate seeking to wrest the Dimapur-II seat from NDPP legislator Moatoshi Longkumer, denied any strategic understanding with any other party.
“The LJP (RV) gave us a platform to serve the people and live up to their expectations by not making tall promises,” he said, hoping his performance as the first chairperson of the Dimapur Municipal Council two decades ago would stand him in good stead.
Bid to expand base
“Our party did support two BJP candidates in the Bihar by-elections, but allegations about our tacit understanding in Nagaland are baseless. Why then is (Assam Chief Minister) Himanta Biswa Sarma, in his election speeches, brushing us off as a party without any future?” Pranab Kumar, LJP (RV) coordinator for Nagaland told The Hindu.
The Nagaland polls, he said, gave the LJP (RV) an opportunity to expand its footprint.
The BJP has also trashed theories that it was backing the LJP (RV) candidates for reducing the number of NDPP seats and getting more MLAs through the “backdoor”.
“The Janata Dal (United) and Rashtriya Janata Dal, two other Bihar-based parties contesting the Nagaland elections are our adversaries. Of the six JD(U) candidates, two are contesting seats allotted to the NDPP. Two out of three RJD candidates are also contesting against NDPP. How do you explain that?” a spokesperson of the BJP’s Nagaland unit said.
LJP (RV) leaders said the party is not thinking beyond occupying the ‘opposition’ space in a State that has had all-party governments.
The first such government was in 2015 when eight opposition Congress MLAs joined the NPF-led government of which the BJP was a constituent. The second was when 25 MLAs of the NPF joined the NDPP-BJP government in September 2021.
Mr Kumar said the LJP (RV) could cause an upset. “This is evident from the attacks on our candidates and supporters by the rivals,” he said.
There are other indications, as Kohima resident James Naga pointed out. “No one likes to sit in the opposition in Nagaland. This is why some parties found it hard to field candidates while the new-to-Nagaland LJP (RV) had takers in a very short time,” he said.