The ruling alliance of the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party is poised to storm back to power in Nagaland.

Going by trends at 2 pm, the two parties are likely to rake up a combined tally of around 40 seats – a comfortable two-thirds majority in the house of 60.

For observers of Nagaland politics, this was a victory foretold.

A free path to victory

The two main Opposition parties put up candidates in a limited number of seats – the Naga People’s Front in 22 seats and the Congress in 23 seats.

The Naga People’s Front, once a formidable force and the single largest party in the previous Assembly election in the state, has been reduced to a non-entity: at the time of publishing this article, the party was leading in a mere three seats.

The NDPP-BJP government has been largely unchallenged since 2021 when the Naga People’s Front, which had won 25 seats in the 2018 Assembly election, joined the state government. They claimed they were doing so to “work collectively” to solve the Naga political question.

The Naga political question’s long shadow

The demand for a separate ethnic Naga homeland and the peace process around the militancy it spawned has been a recurring theme in the state’s electoral politics.

Ahead of this year’s election, too, the issue took centre stage.

Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio had even gone to the extent of saying that his party NDPP would not campaign for the Assembly elections. Rio said he would instead concentrate on arriving at a breakthrough in the ongoing political discussions between the Naga groups and the Centre before the elections.

However, as the elections approached, that promise seems to have been forgotten. Not only was there no fresh breakthrough, the NDPP and the BJP launched a high-decibel joint campaign.

In election rallies, the BJP leaders repeated what they had said ahead of the previous election: that the Centre would arrive at a “solution” soon.

This time, they also promised to address the demand for a separate state for the residents of Nagaland’s marginalised eastern districts.

Money talks

The Opposition, on the other hand, barely campaigned.

The Naga People’s Front had been left utterly beleaguered after 21 of its 25 legislators switched over to the NDPP last April.

“Our party is a poor party,” said Shurhozelie Liezietsu, former chief minister and senior leader of the party.

Liezietsu said they could not have mounted a serious fight given their lack of financial resources. “In Nagaland, it is purely a money game,” he said. “There is no political ideology here. We could not do well for the obvious reason that we are a poor regional party.”

More neutral observers also tended to agree with Liezietsu.

“One of the reasons NPF failed to do well is because it has no ties with the ruling party at the Centre as underneath it all, it’s all about financial security, that is getting a share of the dole-outs from Delhi,” said a Dimapur-based political journalist.

The rise of the BJP

Regardless, many believe the poll verdict had cemented the BJP’s place in the state. The party looks set to better its tally of 12 in the 2018 election.

Political scientist Kaustabh Deka said the performance “marks strong inroads by the BJP in the Christian [majority] hill state”.

“The NDPP-BJP alliance benefited from the twin plank of developmental agenda and appeal to identity aspirations,” said Deka.