Assembly elections

Unhappy youth, infighting, regional forces: Scroll’s reportage from the North East elections

Looking back at Scroll.in’s coverage of issues in Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland in the run-up to elections.

While much of the commentary in the aftermath of the results from three North East Indian states on Saturday will focus on which party comes to power and what the verdict will mean for national politics, it is worth remembering that the voters of Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura were picking candidates and governments that mattered for their own lives.

In light of the results, here is a look back at some of Scroll’s reporting from the run-up to the election, covering some of the ground that would eventually bear out in the final numbers.

Tripura

The Bharatiya Janata Party along with its ally the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura got a decisive mandate from the people, winning 44% of the vote and replacing a Left government that had been in power for 25 years prior.

Arunabh Saikia reported on the mood in the state before the election, where unhappiness against Communist rule had been mounting.

  • A look at the angry unemployed youth who wanted change in Tripura.
    “Communist ideology wants us to stay happy with little,” said Prasenjit Banik, a 27-year-old student of rural management and development in Tripura University and a resident of Santirbazar in South Tripura district. “But why shouldn’t we also, like the rest of the country, aspire for more?”
  • How the BJP used a Supreme Court order cancelling teacher appointments in Tripura to channel anger against the Left government.
    “We have told our students’ parents that they should all vote for the BJP too. It is about the future of their assets, their children. If our jobs go, who will teach them?”
  • It is not just about the BJP. Its ally, the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura managed to win much of the tribal vote in the state, cashing in on an impression that the Left had ignored their community.
    “They are giving all favours to the non-tribal areas,” said Pitor Debbarma, 28. “Just look at the difference in development. They are not paying attention to tribal areas. Lakhs of educated young people are just moving around aimlessly because there are no jobs. There is no development in our area.”

Nagaland

Much of the action in Nagaland took place in the few months before the election, when Neiphiu Rio, a former chief minister, broke off from the ruling National People’s Front to form his own party, the National Democratic People’s Party. Things got even more complicated when the Bharatiya Janata Party, which was in an alliance with the NPF both in Nagaland and outside the state, decided it would contest elections with the NDPP. In the final result, the NDPP-BJP combine and the NPF with a local ally picked up almost the same number of seats, with only the former edging ahead after securing support from the Janata Dal (United) and an independent.

Ipsita Chakravarty reported on the infighting within the incumbent NPF and how the BJP managed to build a presence in the state.

  • After three terms in power and four changes of chief minister in the last five years, the NPF is associated more with corruption than its original cause, a solution to the Naga peace process.
    “The NPF party is like a friendly match, only so many players get injured,” said Imkong L Imchen, a minister in the outgoing government.
  • Politics in the state tends to be dominated by personalities, not parties. So the BJP simply started bringing in prominent politicians.
    “That is not the real question,” said Nambemo Patton, chairman of the Rephyim village council, when asked about defections. “We are not concerned about the party, we only need a quality leader.”
  • Neiphiu Rio, a three-time chief minister who split from the NPF to form his own party, looks on track to take charge of the state yet again – but before the election, his move was definitely a gamble.
  • Although she was leading for a while on Saturday, Awan Konyak ultimately lost the election, along with four other women candidates contesting, leaving Nagaland still yet to see its first female Member of Legislative Assembly. Here is why the state ranks last on the national list of women even contesting.

Meghalaya

Five different parties ended up with more than 8% of the vote in Meghalaya, leaving the final result a confused hodge-podge of potential alliances. The incumbent Congress came in as the single-largest party – although significantly diminished compared to its previous tally – and the National People’s Party was not far behind, and it is unlikely the two will work together. That makes the final government a numbers game.

Arunabh Saikia reported on the difficulties the Congress was facing in the state, and the rise of a regional party:

  • The National People’s Party, which has managed to rise beyond a community-specific image, to challenge the position of both the Congress and the BJP in Meghalaya.
    “People want a change, they are fed up of the Congress,” said S Loniak Marbaniang, a veteran politician from the state and a retired professor of mathematics from the Shillong-based North Eastern Hill University. “In rural areas, the BJP is still considered untouchable for its anti-cow slaughter stand so NPP is the only viable alternative.”
  • The BJP ended up picking just 2 seats in Meghalaya, though it did well in other states. This might have much to do with its anti-Christian image, which it struggled to shed.
    “They bring dharm [religion] everywhere,” said Alex G Sangma, an anti-corruption activist. “That will lead to their downfall.
  • The ruling Congress has had to face the unhappiness of the people in the state, both because of a ban on coal mining that affected entire districts as well as the regulations on limestone mining.
    A businessman with interests in the cement industry said a solution may be possible if the party in power at the Centre has some say in the matter. “We have realised that this battle cannot be won in the courts, it has to be the Centre that steps in,” he said.
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