The elections to Nagaland, Meghalaya and Tripura, dates for which were announced Thursday, are a test for both the Congress that is struggling to survive and the BJP that is hoping to form the government in all three states.
In Tripura, the Left Front faces its biggest challenge since it ousted the Congress in 1993. The Left has 50 MLAs; 49 of the CPI(M) and one of the CPI. The BJP has appointed Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma as its election in-charge. Sarma is seen as instrumental in installing three BJP governments in the Northeast — Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur — in the last two years.
The Congress is struggling against depletion; from 10 seats won in 2013, it is down to three with the rest going to the BJP. Six of them had first gone to the Trinamool Congress and then moved on to the BJP last year, while the seventh, whose seat is now vacant, joined the BJP two months ago.
In Nagaland, politics has suddenly turned fluid over the last few days despite the BJP having been a partner of the Naga People’s Front (NPF) in the ruling Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) for the last 15 years. Chief Minister T R Zeliang has only recently patched up with veteran leader Shurhozelie Liezietsu — whom he had ousted in July 2017 — but has fallen out with former chief minister Neiphiu Rio.
Rio, who had passed on the mantle of chief ministership on Zeliang when he contested the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, has been engaged in a battle of one-upmanship with the present chief minister for the last two years or so. In February 2017, Rio allegedly engineered Zeliang’s removal and put Shurhozelie in the chief minister’s office. Five months later, the same Rio was instrumental in putting Zeliang back in the chair.
On Wednesday, Rio quit the NPF and reportedly joined the newly formed Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP), a move that could challenge the ruling NPF —which, in turn, is reportedly set to snap ties with the BJP. Rio, twice suspended by the NPF, has with him former Lok Sabha member Chingwang Konyak and ex-IAS officer Alemtemsi Jamir in the NDPP. All eyes are on whether the BJP ties up with the NDPP.
Infighting continues in the NPF. Last month, Chief Minister Zeliang had dropped six ministers, including Mmhonlumo Kikon of the BJP. Another removed minister, Yanthungo Patton, resigned as MLA last week and joined the BJP.
The 60-member Nagaland Assembly has 48 NPF members, four from the BJP and eight Independents — all part of the NPF-led DAN. The Congress has no member in the House.
In Meghalaya too, the scenario is far from clear, especially because the BJP is yet to forge an alliance with any of the regional parties opposed to the Congress. While the National People’s Party (NPP) — founded by former Lok Sabha Speaker Purno A Sangma and now headed by his son Conrad — is trying to tie up with other regional parties, nine MLAs, including six of the Congress, joined it last week. The Congress, which had won 29 seats in the 60-member House in 2013, is heading the Meghalaya United Alliance (MUA) government with the help of independents.