The countdown for India’s general elections has begun. Nine states will go to the assembly polls this year ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, and the Election Commission of India has set the ball rolling, announcing polling dates for three key northeastern states — Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland. Tripura will vote on February 16, while Nagaland and Meghalaya elections will be in February. Results are expected on March 2.
Over the last few years, the BJP has made significant inroads into the northeast, which was once a bastion of the Indian National Congress. So what is at stake this time. Let us take a look.
The BJP scored a historic win in the 2018 Tripura assembly election, ending the Left Front’s 25-year rule in the state. Out of the 60 seats, the BJP won 36, the CPM got 16, and Congress returned empty-handed.
The BJP initially chose Biplab Kumar Deb as chief minister, but following a series of controversies, he was replaced by Manik Saha, who is more low-key and is the BJP’s main face.
This time, the BJP faces a Left-Congress alliance and a third player who will be key — the TIPRA Motha party, led by former state congress chief Pradyot Kishore Manikya. The former royal has strong support among tribals and has made the demand for a greater Tipraland state for tribals his main plank. However, it isn’t yet clear which party he would end up supporting, but he has said that he will ally with the one that accepts his demand in writing.
However, soon after the announcement of election dates, Manikya met with Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, setting off speculation of a possible deal with the BJP.
The unlikely Congress-Left alliance is forced by ground realities and the need to take on the BJP.
The 2018 polls to the 60-member Meghalaya assembly returned a fractured verdict. This time, the entry of Mamata Banerjee’s TMC has further queered the pitch.
In 2018, Chief Minister Conrad Sanghma’s National People’s Party (NPP) captured 9 seats, the Congress was the single largest party with 21, the BJP got just 2, and the United Democratic Party had 6 seats.
The NPP formed the Meghalaya Democratic Alliance with the support of the BJP, UDP and the Hill State People’s Democratic Party. However, cracks have emerged, with the NPP and the BJP deciding to fight the elections separately. The two parties fell out last year after the BJP’s Bernard N. Marak was arrested for alleged sexual abuse of children and running a “brothel”.
The Congress have been weakened by desertions as 12 of their MLAs, led by former chief minister Mukul Sangma, switched to the TMC in 2021. The remaining members left the party to support the NPP. Sangma is a formidable leader from the Garo Hills, which sends 24 MLAs to the 60-member assembly
There’s been no Opposition in the 60-seat Nagaland assembly since 2021. In 2018, BJP won 12 seats, NDPP got 17, and NPF 26, with the NDPP’s Neiphiu Rio becoming the chief minister.
All parties — the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP), the BJP, the Naga People’s Front (NPF) along with two Independent MLAs — came together to seek a solution to the Nagaland problem and formed the United Democratic Alliance (UDA).
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But this alliance will not continue in the upcoming polls as the NDPP and BJP have joined hands against the NPF. The Congress has said it may enter into a post-poll alliance with the NPF.
The Naga peace talks are a key factor again. Seven tribes under the umbrella of the Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation (ENPO) are demanding a separate Frontier Nagaland state and threatening to boycott elections if they don’t get their way. They are in talks with a Union Home Ministry committee.
The electoral battles in the northeastern states are interestingly poised and will set the ball rolling for a busy election year.