The honours have turned out to be even in the three northeastern states of Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya. While the Left has romped home to yet another handsome victory in Tripura, its fifth in a row, the ruling National People’s Front has retained Nagaland. So has the Congress in Meghalaya.
It’s worth considering, however, whether the pro-incumbency factor in these states reflects the popularity of the ruling parties or the absence of a viable opposition. In Tripura, for instance, it is evident that the anti-Left alliance formed by the Congress and the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura (NIPT) posed no challenge to the Communists.
One reason for its failure is apparently the fact that it does not have a leader to match the stature of Chief Minister Manik Sarkar of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), who has been at the government’s helm since 1998.
Although little is known about this low-key personality outside Tripura, Sarkar has clearly been a great deal more successful than his better known party colleagues like Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and V.S. Achuthanandan in West Bengal and Kerala where the CPI-M has faced defeats in the last two assembly elections.
Sarkar’s triumphs are all more remarkable because Tripura has remained something of a backwater whose politics is of little interest at the national level. However, the Left Front government undoubtedly owes its repeated good showing to the fact that it has been able to rid the state of the violence between its Bengali and tribal inhabitants which was prevalent not long ago. The INPT’s defeat is significant because it shows that the tribals no longer repose much faith in outfits claiming to represent their interests.
In Nagaland, the impressive showing by the National People’s Front (NPF) indicates a dramatic improvement in its political position since 2008 when the Congress ran it close. Again, the relative peace under Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio’s rule must have persuaded the voters to repose their trust in the NPF-led Democratic Alliance of Nagaland for yet another term.
The NPF received a jolt just before the elections when Home Minister Imkong L. Imchen was arrested for carrying over Rs.1 crore in cash along with arms, ammunition and liquor. But the scandal does not seem to have affected the party’s fortunes. Just as the fact that Neiphiu Rio switched his allegiance from the Congress in 2003 to bring the Congress’s decade-long rule in the state to an end has had no unfavourable political impact on his image.
After the setbacks in Tripura and Nagaland, the Congress can derive some satisfaction in its success in retaining Meghalaya. It will also not be displeased that former Lok Sabha speaker P.A. Sangma’s newly-formed National People’s Party hasn’t fared well. Sangma had challenged Pranab Mukherjee’s candidature in the presidential election after walking out of the Nationalist Congress Party.
But his new innings hasn’t been a notable success. Even the so-called “magic bus” in which he travelled round the state with a hydraulic stage which facilitated his appearance before the crowd does not seem to have worked its magic.
A feature of the polls was the unusually high voter turnout, suggesting the consolidation of faith in the parliamentary system even if the personal and political records of the politicians leave much to be desired — as the arrest of the Nagaland home minister showed.
At the same time, the arrest itself was a sign of the Election Commission’s professionalism which went a long way to reassure the electorate that their voters were not wasted. In Tripura, the percentage of the turnout was an unprecedented 93.5 percent while in Nagaland and Meghalaya they were 83 and 88 percent respectively.
Another feature of the elections is the presence of a few parties from mainland India which are apparently trying to secure a toehold in the northeast. These include the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Janata Dal-United, Rashtriya Janata Dal and NCP in Nagaland. The NCP is in the field in Meghalaya too.
It is doubtful to what extent these parties have been able to modify their north- and west India-centric worldviews to the distinctive realities of the north-east. But the endeavour is commendable because if even they do not win a sizeable number of seats, they can at least play a part in bringing these states close to mainstream politics.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)