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Tugging at the Centre

The BJP is the party to watch in the forthcoming elections in Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya

With the diverse nature of political competition in each of the three northeastern States — Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya — going to polls in mid-February, it is difficult to say what may be the overall trend. But though there are many regional parties contesting elections besides the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, the spotlight will be on the performance of the BJP.

The BJP presence

The BJP is unlikely to form the government in any of these States, but it is likely to make its presence felt in a big way by contesting elections either alone or in alliance with smaller regional parties. It is clear that the BJP is trying hard to make its presence felt in the northeastern States. This is not for the sake of adding to its tally in the Lok Sabha (these States account for only five seats), but the BJP is trying hard to send out a signal that its reach extends beyond the Hindi heartland. Even though the BJP is not a dominant political force in the northeast, by forming alliances it could spring a surprise in the Assembly elections.

 

In Meghalaya, a State with a very large Christian population (nearly 75%), the BJP is hoping to emerge as a formidable force in alliance with the National People’s Party (NPP). In Tripura, the Left is facing an anti-incumbency of decades, and the Congress has failed to give any indication of its revival in the State. In such circumstances, the BJP seems well poised to put up a strong challenge to the Left Front government by making an effort to form an alliance with smaller regional parties like the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT).

Nagaland ties

With 11 political parties, including the ruling Naga People's Front (NPF), seeking a poll boycott till a solution to the Naga issue, the situation is fluid. The BJP hopes to make further inroads in Nagaland by weakening the ruling party, the NPF. The NPF had won the 2013 Assembly elections convincingly, with 38 of 60 seats and 47.1% of the vote. But the party has weakened with factionalism running deep. It no longer remains the dominant party in Nagaland and the BJP hopes to gain from the rifts within. Former Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio has defected from the NPF to the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party. The BJP is planning to contest elections alone and hopes to gain from being in power in the Centre as the State largely depends on grants from the Central government. Even if the BJP does not manage to win a majority, it may play an important role in forming the coalition government in the likely situation of a hung Assembly.

 

The BJP has hardly been present in Tripura, but with Congress MLAs joining its ranks, it has managed to make its presence stronger. Of the 10 Congress MLAs, eight have already defected to the BJP and the Congress vote share of 36.5% in the 2013 Assembly elections seems to be only notional now. With the defection of eight MLAs, the support base of the Congress has also significantly shifted to the BJP. While it is difficult to imagine how much vote share the BJP may have at present, it is certainly far more than the less-than-2% votes it polled during the last three Assembly elections. The Left has won all Assembly elections since 1993 with handsome margins, but there are indications of a significant decline in the vote share of the Left due to anti-incumbency. The issue of unemployment remains a major issue and the BJP is hoping to gain from people’s unhappiness against the government. Its alliance with the IPFT can help the party make inroads among the Adivasis who constitute nearly a third of the total number of voters in the State.

Fragmented Meghalaya

In the fragmented political environment of Meghalaya, it is difficult to forecast which party might win the elections and form the government in case of a hung Assembly. In the last 18 years, eight governments have been formed, with a brief period of President's rule. The State has a history of defections. On the eve of Assembly elections, MLAs from different parties have switched allegiance. Nationalist Congress Party leader Marathon Sangma and four other independent MLAs joined the Congress. A few days ago, five Congress MLAs quit the party to join the NPP, which is an ally of the BJP government at the Centre. At the moment, the State seems to be heading for a direct contest between the Congress, the single largest party in the Assembly for the last two decades, and the Conrad Sangma-led NPP. While the Congress hopes to gain from the stability that Congress leader Mukul Sangma has been able to provide to State politics, it is still early to forecast if that may happen.

Sanjay Kumar is a Professor and currently the Director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi. Views are personal

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Printable version | Mar 29, 2020 9:54:19 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/tugging-at-the-centre/article22637655.ece

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