In the changing political landscape of the country, the three States from the Northeast going to the polls in February are among the smaller ones. But the political significance of the these States are no less. Arguably the most keenly watched battle will be in Tripura, which is the only State other than Kerala where Communist Party of India (Marxist) is in power. The citadel of five time Chief Minister Manik Sarkar is facing a stiff challenge from the saffron brigade this time. If initial indications are anything to go by, it doesn’t appear that Sarkar will have a cakewalk. Although under his leadership Tripura has witnessed development on various fronts, but during last few years, allegations of corruption against some of his ministers have dented the image of the Left front government. However, Sarkar’s impeccable record as an honest Chief Minister could again be the decider in the coming polls. On the other hand, BJP has been trying hard for past few years to get a toehold in the Left bastion and have already replaced the Congress as the principal opposition party there. It has also tied up with tribal political parties in the State. The tribals constitute 32 percent of Tripura’s population. If the Left front this time still mages to sail through, it will stamp its authority and give the Leftists renewed energy to take on the right-wing BJP in States like West Bengal, where the ruling Trimool is keeping a wary eye on the saffron surge. Tripura has traditiolly had a high poll turnout, with more than 90% of the electorate casting vote in the 2013 assembly election. The State has witnessed an improvement in several social indices — it is almost fully literate, has lowered the infant mortality rate, and has a high overall rank on the human development index despite being a largely agrarian and forestry-domited economy.
Elections in 3 NE States
The Christian domited State of galand is again passing through politically turbulent times. The galand People’s Front (NPF) — heading the Democratic Alliance of galand (DAN) government with NJP and JD(U) as allies — has had a troubled year with Chief Minister TR Zeliang returning to power in July 2017 after being pushed out a few months earlier over 33 percent reservation for women in urban local bodies. The interl battle within the NPF was brought to a partial resolution with an agreement in December last between supporters of Zeliang and his predecessor Shurhozelie Liezietsu. But the in-fighting has raised the hopes of the Opposition, particularly the Congress. The Congress feels gung-ho enough to go it alone in galand elections, while it remains to be seen whether the BJP succeeds in wresting a better deal from big brother NPF in terms of more seats to contest. However, the ga Framework Agreement and the role of the apex ga tribal body, the ga Hoho, which has called for an electoral boycott, also loom large. How this will affect the polls will be watched. Civil society and Church play a domint role in ga politics, and this time too, the election in the tribal State will be fought not on local issues but centred around seeking a solution to the vexed ga problem. BJP general secretary Ram Madhav has already stated that the party is looking for ‘stability’ in galand so that the rendra Modi government can successfully conclude the ga agreement. So the political game in galand this time is primarily about the contours of this pact still shrouded in secrecy, which has triggered much disquiet in neighbouring States Assam, Manipur and Aruchal Pradesh.
Meanwhile in Meghalaya, the Congress is fighting hard to retain the State, one of only four where the party remains in power. In a politically turbulent State, Chief Minister Mukul Sangma, in power for almost eight uninterrupted years, has been hard-selling the plank of stability. But just ahead of election, more than 8 legislators including a senior cabinet minister have deserted the Congress, citing ‘dictatorial attitude of Sangma’. The newly formed tiolist People’s Party (NPP), an ally of NDA government at the Centre, has been trying hard to seize the initial momentum by riding the winds for ‘change’, with some disgruntled Congress MLAs including a cabinet minister recently walking into its fold. The NPP, led by Conrad Sangma, MP from Tura constituency and son of late Purno Agitok Sangma, is a constituent of the BJP-led North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA). The BJP, trying hard to build a political base in Meghalaya, has begun flying in its top leaders, holding rallies in different corners of the State; but the saffron party’s hopes still rest in urban belts where it tasted some success during the Vajpayee regime. For the ruling Congress, problems are plenty with 5 of its MLAs quitting the party recently to join NPP. The situation came to such a pass that Congress President Rahul Gandhi had to intervene and change the party president, replacing veteran Congressman DD Lapang by Celestine Lyngdoh. There is also a regiol front in the poll fray, with United Democratic Party (UDP) joining hands with Hill State People’s Democratic Party (HSPDP) and the Garo tiol Council (GNC). But whether the electorate will repose its faith in a regiol front is another matter, what with the State’s chronic dependence on Central funds. How the nearly 87,000 new voters, aged between 18 and 19 years, exercise their franchise, would also bear watching. Meghalaya remains saddled with high unemployment and underdevelopment, little success in mobilising interl resources, simmering insurgency in Garo Hills, dismal state of infrastructure and virtually non-existent industrial base. These are serious issues that political parties need to address.