Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura in the northeastern region of India will elect new Assemblies in February. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s stakes are the highest as it seeks to retain power in Tripura and continue to be a key partner of the main ruling entities in the other two States. The BJP is in alliance with Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma’s National People’s Party (NPP) in Meghalaya and Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio’s Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) in Nagaland. The Congress, once the main party in the northeast, is struggling, wiped out in Nagaland, trying to stay afloat in Tripura, and raided by the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in Meghalaya. Regional parties in the northeast tend to align with the ruling party at the Centre, and the BJP has expanded its footprint in the region considerably in recent years. A BJP victory in 2018 ended more than two decades of Left Front rule in Tripura. However, being in power has not been easy; its first Chief Minister, Biplab Kumar Deb, was replaced with Manik Saha, a dental surgeon, in 2022, an effort to reverse the decline in the party’s popularity. The emergence of the Tipra Motha, a regional party that swept the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council polls in April 2021 has changed the dynamics in 20 Assembly seats in its area. A Left-Congress alliance is also possible.
TMC leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been trying to gain a foothold in the northeast, but with limited success. In Meghalaya, 12 Congress MLAs defected to the TMC in 2021, but its stock has been depleting since. The TMC is viewed as a Bengali party in the State, where regional sentiments are strong. The party has some patches of influence in the Garo Hills of the State. In Nagaland, the BJP has announced a pre-poll alliance with its current partner the NDPP; in Meghalaya, the BJP and NPP are not only contesting separately but also calling each other names. Alliances in the State are usually forged after the elections. The NPP is facing accusations of corruption, and is being overly influenced by Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, the BJP’s pointsman for the northeast. As usual, indigenous groups in Nagaland have threatened to boycott the polls, pressing various demands. A demand for the creation of Frontier Nagaland being raised by the Konyak Union, an apex tribal body is a new flavour of the season. The BJP is likely to continue with its innovations in dealing with regionalism while the Opposition’s capacity to sustain will be tested in these elections.