Thursday, March 23, 2023

Interesting poll battles

Three states in the north east are going to the polls in February- in BJP-governed Tripura, polling took place on February 16 with voter turn out at 87.6 %. Next simultaneous polling will be held on February 27 in Meghalaya and Nagaland. In Tripura, the BJP is in power with a local ally, the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT). After having made significant inroads in Tripura in 2018, the saffron party had put an end to the Left’s long rule, but had to remove Biplab Deb from the chief minister’s post in 2022 to thwart an anti-incumbency wave. The next man in, chief minister, Dr Manik Saha, faces the challenge of growing fragmentation in the state unit and a tumultuous relationship with its closest ally, the IPFT. The key issue in Tripura is undoubtedly the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 which seeks to amend the Citizenship Act of 1955 to provide citizenship to illegal immigrants belonging to six minority religious communities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The ruling BJP is in favour of the bill, while the opposition Congress and the TMC are opposed to it. The other regional party, The Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA) Motha founded by former Congress leader Pradyot Bikram Manikya Deb Barma, is strong in tribal areas and rules the state’s tribal autonomous district council. The party has decided to go solo since no political party has given it a written assurance on its core demand of Greater Tipraland. If the CPM-Congress alliance can form a post-poll alliance with the TIPRA Motha, provided they make up the numbers, then the BJP will have to think of ‘options’. In Meghalaya, the ruling Meghalaya Democratic Front(MDF) headed by NPP’s Conrad Sangma as chief minister includes United Democratic Party(UDP), People’s Democratic Front(PDF), BJP, Hill State People’s Democratic Party(HSPDP) and independents. At present, the BJP has decided to go solo in Meghalaya as the party’s stance on the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and other allied issues had come in conflict with that of its alliance partner. The BJP is not a major player and is looking to make alliances with regional parties to form a government. The fight is mainly between the ruling NPP, its alliance partner the BJP and the TMC made up of former Congress chief minister Mukul Sangma and host of former Congress legislators. The Congress has to rebuild a new and young team which may pay dividends in future. The UDA in Nagaland is led by three-time chief minister Neiphiu Rio of the NDPP and the coalition includes BJP, NPF and independents. The UDA is the second ‘opposition-less government’ in the state after the first one in 2015. This time ticket distribution in Nagaland has been very difficult for the NDPP and the BJP as both alliance partners were swamped by ticket aspirants. Eventually those who could not be given tickets are fighting under other political parties and most of them having no roots or support base in the state. The state BJP is contesting 20 and its alliance leader NDPP is contesting 40 seats. There is a proxy battle going on between NDPP and BJP as both have set up candidates in other parties. Both NDPP and BJP are fighting anti-incumbency and various failures and so the proxy candidates are insurance for safety in numbers. That will be known only on March 2 when results are declared.

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