Hitlers, Roosevelts and cars: What the Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura elections can serve

With money flowing, elections in the Northeast (like elsewhere in India?) are a costly affair. The candidates are required to spend in crores. In places, they are required to gift even cars...

Published: 18th January 2023 09:22 PM  |   Last Updated: 19th January 2023 04:35 PM   |  A+A-

The Northeast

For representational purposes (Soumyadip Sinha | Express Illustrations)

An Adolf Hitler or a Churchill contesting, and an Argentina or Italy exercising their franchise. The colour Northeast elections otherwise lack can be found on the EVMs and among those queuing up to press the voting buttons! How many such interesting characters will Nagaland, Meghalaya and Tripura throw up now that the Election Commission has announced the poll schedule for the three states?

In the past, an Adolf Lu Hitler R Marak, and candidates with names such as Churchill and Roosevelt won elections in Meghalaya and became members of the state Assembly. Our Hitler had, in fact, briefly served as a minister until 2003.

Nagaland has also spiced it up, but not always in a healthy way. "Proxy voting" is a malaise the state is yet to be rid of. In the 2003 Nagaland elections, I found a senior journalist losing her cool outside a polling booth. She had just discovered that her vote had already been cast by someone else! Locals say proxy voters get upwards of Rs 500 for each vote they cast.

With money flowing, elections in the Northeast (like elsewhere in India?) are a costly affair. The candidates are required to spend in crores. In places, they are required to gift even cars to people who can influence voters in their favour.

One positive aspect is that the elections in the Northeast these days are relatively peaceful. Tripura is an exception. It is fast catching up with states like West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh where the past few elections have been invariably violent.

ALSO READ | Red October memories of Northeast's days of terror and the joy of peace now

The upcoming polls will be a challenge for the ruling BJP in Tripura. The Congress and the Left parties are in talks for an alliance to oust the saffron party from power. The BJP currently heads a two-party coalition government, with the Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT) being the other constituent.

The Congress and the Left are also trying to bring the TIPRA Motha into their prospective formation. However, the tribe-based party has not shown any inclination yet to ally with anyone.

Of Tripura's 60 seats, 20 are in the tribal areas. These had been the CPI-M's strongholds. Now, the CPI-M has virtually lost the space to the TIPRA Motha. It had appointed Jitendra Chowdhury, a tribal, as its state secretary to try and win back the trust and confidence of the tribal voters.

Yet, the TIPRA Motha holds sway in most of these seats. The BJP is influential in some. These seats will virtually decide the fate of the parties in the state. The Left, BJP and Congress largely have their support base in the non-tribal seats.

WEB SCRAWL | The King's Speech: Why the BJP may find it difficult to return to power in Tripura

The BJP had captured power in 2018 by spanking the Left, which was in the saddle for 25 years on the trot. However, the party's image took a beating under former Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb. The BJP was forced to go into damage control mode and replaced Deb with incumbent Manik Saha, a dental surgeon, in May last year.

The BJP has already lost five of its legislators, including a minister, to other parties. Three MLAs of its ally IPFT also ditched the party.

In Meghalaya, the Trinamool Congress is trying to emerge as an alternative. It had no base in the state but 12 Congress MLAs, led by former Chief Minister Mukul Sangma, jumped ship in November 2021 to wear TMC colours, making it the state's principal opposition party overnight. However, four MLAs deserted the party. The last to leave the party is Shitlang Pale. He resigned from the Assembly on Wednesday and joined the regional United Democratic Party.

The Congress, which had emerged as the single largest party in the past two elections, is now a pale shadow of its old self. It is left with no MLA now after a series of defections.

Retaining power will not be easy for Conrad K Sangma's National People’s Party (NPP). The party-headed government faces serious charges of corruption across departments.

The BJP, which has two MLAs, will look to consolidate its position in the Christian-majority state.

In Nagaland, the ruling combine of BJP, Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party and Naga People's Front is set to retain power. The Congress ruled the state for the most part but it does not have a single MLA now.

The election will be held in the backdrop of a boycott threat issued by the Eastern Nagaland People's Organisation (ENPO). The ENPO, the apex tribal organisation of eastern Nagaland, is spearheading a 'people’s movement' demanding the creation of 'Frontier Nagaland' state by bifurcating Nagaland. The backwardness of the region, many say, made the people to raise the separate state demand. These six districts in eastern Nagaland have 20 of the state's 60 seats.

What happens in these seats will be another headline-grabbing note on March 2, the day the results of these elections are set to be announced.


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