NEW DELHI: Elections to the 60-member assemblies in three North-Eastern states—Tripura on February 18, Nagaland and Meghalaya on February 27—have never been so closely watched.
Nor would the March 3 results have ever been so awaited.
It has little to do with the fact that Election Commission under CEC AK Joti has broken from tradition and EVMs would have 100 per cent VVPAT coverage. It’s more political than that: The BJP is posing a challenge to entrenched ruling parties in all three states.
Manik Sarkar’s long-standing CPI-M Government in Tripura, the NPF’s stranglehold over Nagaland and the Congress rule in Meghalaya, all are up against the BJP’s ambitious foray into the North-East.
In Meghalaya, the BJP’s plan to erase any Congress footprint in the NE comes riding partially on the shoulders of Conrad Sangma’s NPP and two other regional outfits (though NPP denies there’s any alliance).
In Nagaland, it’s going against its own oldest ally, the ruling NPF, by propping up ex-CM Neiphiu Rio as the joint candidate of the fledgling NDPP and BJP. In Tripura, it’s a direct fight between the Left and the saffron.
Manik Sarkar and Tripura are like what Jyoti Basu and West Bengal used to be: The general and an impregnable red-fortress. However, of late, the determined push Amit Shah has been giving has not just shaken the CPI-M out of its comfort zone, but brought it close to contemplating a dire, restless future.
Besides ethnic animosities, the BJP is banking heavily on the 10,000 school-teachers whose jobs the Left Government in Tripura could not regularize, and the 1.5 lakh government employees who have been denied their 10th Pay Commission hike.
Law and order is another factor. A CPI-M leader in the state quipped, “Even if there’s a road accident, the BJP is blaming us for it.”
Nonetheless, in the backdrop of two journalist killings, the law-and-order issue is finding resonance on the ground.However, the decade-long relative peace in Tripura, and his delivery of water-roads-school-healthcare, is what Sarkar feels would offset all the negative campaigning. That it’s a tough fight, even the CPI-M is not denying.
The BJP is most upbeat about Meghalaya. But surprisingly, its main ally NPP’s Conrad, told TNIE that his party is “fighting elections alone—53 of 60 seats—no alliance with anyone, neither BJP nor any regional party. How can I deny tickets to my own MLAs? I’ve to run my party here.’’
Conrad refuses to explain why he has chosen not to contest all 60 seats. Whether he may opt for an alliance with the NCP, his father P A Sangma’s former party, is also not clear. The BJP, meanwhile, too is contesting all seats and is confident of forming the government. The Prime Minister himself kicked off the campaign even before the dates were announced with an Rs 90,000 crore package for Meghalaya.
The Congress is fighting with its back to the wall. But a prominent N-E MP close to Rahul Gandhi, when asked about the Congress strategy for Meghalaya said, “We’re only focusing on Karnataka.”
In Nagaland, however, the Congress has been haranguing the ruling NPF for its “doublespeak”: for breaking away from BJP in the state, while supporting it in Parliament. The break came after NPF suspected an Arunachal kind of plan to destabilise its government.
On record, neither Chief Minister T R Zeilang nor his leaders want to confirm if they are not in alliance with the BJP. The Naga accord is expected to play a vital role.“Even if the one-party rule of NPF in Nagaland does not end with this election, the BJP will come into its own in the state,” despite it being a Christian majority one, says an old Nagaland negotiator.