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Home > India > News > Specials

The Rediff Special/ David Buhril

N-E assembly elections: Issues at stake

February 04, 2008

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With the Election Commission's announcement of the schedule for elections to the legislative assemblies of Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland, where the polls will be held on February 23, March 3 and March 5 respectively, the heat has once again taken a good track.

While the stage for the political battle is being set, authorities seem more concerned of the security aspects. The Union home ministry has agreed to provide 165 companies of additional central paramilitary force to Tripura for the February 23 assembly elections. This will be in addition to the 54 companies already there.

The Border Security Force is also expected to enhance its presence along the Indo-Bangla border in the run up to the election. Similarly, the Meghalaya government has sought cooperation from neighbouring Assam as it apprehends trouble from rebels in Assam and other north-eastern states during the elections. Meghalaya's chief secretary said that the Centre would sanction around 40 additional companies of paramilitary forces. Meghalaya has also sought some companies from the BSF, which has been asked to maintain extra vigil along the Indo-Bangladesh border.

Despite being a relatively peaceful state, the Election Commission officials said 635 polling stations have been identified as hyper-sensitive, mostly in the Bangladesh-bordering Jaintia Hills district.

In Nagaland too, there are security concerns despite the ceasefire between the government of India and the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland.

Also adding to the security concerns is the demise of the Neiphiu Rio-led Democratic Alliance of Nagaland government. The Congress is trying to make a mileage out of the President's Rule that was recently imposed in the state.

Besides the issue of security, the three states have another point in common: all three will elect a 60-member state assembly. Apart from this there is very little similarity.

In Tripura, the BJP and United Democratic Front will contest the elections jointly, the Congress will team up with the regional Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura. The alliance materialised after four rounds of discussions. The INPT's insisted it wanted 14 constituencies out of 20 reserved for the tribals. Finally it was decided that the INPT would contest 11 seats while the Congress would contest nine.

The poll battle in Tripura will be between the Congress and the Left Front. Even though the Left parties support the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre, the Congress in poll-bound Tripura will strongly campaign against the Left Front government.

AICC general secretary Prithviraj Chavan has revealed that the Congress would be fighting against corruption, nepotism, unemployment and inept handling of the administration by the ruling Left Front in Tripura. Moreover, Congress President Sonia Gandhi [Images], Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images], and AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi [Images] will visit Tripura to campaign for the assembly polls.

Meanwhile, the rift in the Left Front in Tripura has widened with the Forward Bloc, which has been refused more than one seat by the Communist Party of India-Marxist, deciding to contest 15 seats. CPI-M spokesman Gautam Das said that FB had contested only one seat since 1978 and no situation had arisen that it should be given three seats. The CPI-M has made it clear that it would not succumb to the 'pressure tactics' of the FB, which has no presence in the outgoing house.

Political divorces and remarriages are not missing from Meghalaya on the eve of elections. Legislators and political leaders in Meghalaya are on a resignation spree. So far, an independent MLA and a Congress district council member have shifted allegiance and speculation is that more senior politicians may follow suit.

The resignation spree was initiated by the veteran Congressman and former chief minister J D Rymbai who joined the United Democratic Party after he was denied a ticket by the Congress. Following Rymbai footsteps, two legislators, Mawlai MLA P T Sawmkie and Mawsynram MLA D P Iangjuh, of the Meghalaya Democratic Party, an ally of the Congress-led Meghalaya Democratic Alliance government, shifted allegiance to the UDP.

In Meghalaya, the big issue is the agreement between the state government and private companies to develop six power projects. While Congress' allies in the MDA government have distanced themselves from the controversy, the United Democratic Party, an ally of the Congress, plans a protest march against the government's decision. Other political allies have openly criticised senior Congress leader and deputy chief minister in charge of power, Mukul Sangma for acting autocratically to ink the agreement.

Joining the hands of Congress' allies are opposition parties and independent legislators. In the face of that, the BJP and two independent legislators have demanded that the government come out with a white paper on the power project.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is expected to campaign in Meghalaya too. The BJP will also try to make its presence felt by fielding at least 25 seats, according to state BJP president H S Syiemlieh.

It is interesting to note that six former chief ministers would be in fray for the ensuing assembly elections in Meghalaya. Leading the list is incumbent Chief Minister D D Lapang, who will seek re-election from the Nongpoh constituency, his stronghold since Meghalaya attained statehood in 1972. His prime opponent would inevitably be Nationalist Congress Party general secretary and former Lok Sabha Speaker P A Sangma, who will contest from Tura in the Garo hills. Sangma is the chief ministerial candidate of NCP, the single largest opposition party in the state.

Sangma, who is hopeful of coming to power, said that the rift in the government and corruption would be a major issue for his party in the coming election.

Nagaland was brought under the President's Rule on January 3. It ended the three-week political drama triggered by a controversial no-confidence motion in the assembly on December 13 that was won by the BJP-backed Democratic Alliance of Nagaland. Despite Neiphiu Rio surviving the controversial trial of strength, central rule was imposed barely a month before the assembly elections. Neiphiu Rio and the Nagaland People's Front have criticised the move, calling it 'outrageous' and 'murder of democracy'. The move has stirred the heat of election where the BJP and Janata Dal-United-backed DAN takes on the Congress.

Rio alleged that the Congress did not want to face the people of Nagaland and wanted to disrupt the election. The NPF leadership accused the Nagaland Congress leaders as well as Goa [Images] Governor S C Jamir for the murder of democracy in Nagaland.

There are some sections who believe that the imposition of central rule could disrupt of peace process underway between the government of India and the NSCN. What this means is that non-state actors like the NSCN would flex its muscles in the coming polls.

The ground seems shaky for the Rio-led DAN government, which has been buffeted by dissidence in the last one year. Meanwhile, former Union minister and BJP's man-in-charge of Nagaland, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, predicted that 2008 to be the year of BJP in Nagaland and other north eastern states. The BJP announced that it would go it alone in the poll and take appropriate steps after the poll when the question comes to extend support to any alliance. The party has also hinted that it might contest 38 seats.

The state Congress, which has 16 legislators in the outgoing assembly, declared it would contest all 60 seats. The Congress is also planning to spring a surprise by awarding tickets to former party heavyweights. If the BJP is going it alone, then the battle is predictably between the NPF and the Congress.

The BJP with little presence in Nagaland and anywhere in the region will have to be content if it can improve its tally.

The Rediff Specials