Less-known parties with national ambitions gain a toehold in Nagaland polls

With the Congress self-destructing, Nagaland polls present a win-win situation for lesser-known political parties trying to expand their base and candidates seeking a platform to realise their ambitions 

Updated - March 14, 2023 12:49 pm IST

Published - March 12, 2023 05:51 pm IST - GUWAHATI

Republican Party of India (Athawale) president Ramdas Athawale tries his hands at playing the drums during the celebrations of winning two seats in the Nagaland Assembly elections. File

Republican Party of India (Athawale) president Ramdas Athawale tries his hands at playing the drums during the celebrations of winning two seats in the Nagaland Assembly elections. File | Photo Credit: ANI

GUWAHATI

Lesser-known parties with ‘national’ ambitions have succeeded where Congress has failed in the last decade – winning Assembly election seats in Nagaland.

This is a result of a win-win situation for parties who may be unknown in Nagaland, but are seeking to expand beyond their States of origin, as well as for candidates seeking a platform to gain a berth in the 60-member Nagaland Assembly after failing to get tickets from the State’s major political players. 

Take the cases of the Bihar-origin Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas) and the Maharashtra-based Republican Party of India (Athawale). These pro-BJP parties had no presence in Nagaland before the February 27 elections were announced, but still managed to win two seats each. 

The RPI (Athawale) had a better strike rate as it contested nine seats compared to the 16 by the LJP (Ram Vilas). 

Unlikely success

Other parties with a similar status, but who are slightly more experienced in contesting elections in Nagaland also fared better than expected. The Meghalaya-oriented National People’s Party and the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) won five of the 12 seats that each contested, while the Janata Dal (United) bagged one out of the seven seats it contested. 

The Rashtriya Janata Dal failed to win any of the three seats it fought. The party founded by Lalu Prasad Yadav has been contesting elections in Nagaland since 2008 without any success. 

The Congress factor

According to Jeffrey Yaden, editor of the Dimapur-based Nagaland Post, the entry of such “unknown” and “strange” political parties is linked with the beginning of the disintegration of Congress in the State ahead of the 2003 Assembly polls. 

The S.C. Jamir-led Congress had won most of its 53 seats in 1998 unopposed after the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), less than a year after declaring a ceasefire, ‘ordered’ all political parties to not field candidates because of the ongoing peace process. 

Mr Jamir soon fell out with his protégé Neiphiu Rio and other senior Congress leaders, who quit the party and joined the Naga People’s Front (NPF), which formed the alliance government in 2003 despite bagging two seats fewer than the 21 of the Congress. 

Seizing opportunities

That 2003 election was the beginning of the friendship between the BJP and Mr. Rio, which carried on even after he switched his party affiliation yet again to the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP). The 2003 election also saw smaller parties such as the NCP, Trinamool Congress, Rashtriya Lok Dal, Samata Party, and the JD(U) try to seize an opportunity, though only the JD(U) and Samata Party managed to win four seats between them. 

In 2008, only the NCP won seats (two) among the smaller parties. The others that tried their luck were the JD(U), LJP, RJD, Janata Dal (Secular), and Adarsh Political Party. 

The NCP continued its winning streak by bagging four seats in 2013 while the JD(U) won one and the RJD none. In 2018, the NPP and JD(U) won a total of three seats but the NCP, LJP and the Aam Aadmi Party drew a blank. 

Win-win scenario

“Every leader seeks tickets from parties that are in demand [now, the BJP and NDPP]. Those who miss out seek parties that many in Nagaland are not acquainted with, since the Congress no longer seems to be an option,” Mr. Yaden said. The Congress has not won any seat in Nagaland in the last two Assembly polls.

“This is opportunism that works both ways – for political parties from faraway lands seeking the national tag and for resourceful people who want the MLA label. Each uses the other and there is the possibility of such MLAs joining the parties in power,” he said. 

The two MLAs of the NPP and one of JD(U) joined the NDPP months after winning the 2018 elections.

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