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Congress emerges frontrunner in N-E
Syed Zarir Hussain (Indo-Asian News Service), PTI
Shillong, February 25, 2003
First Published: 13:49 IST(25/2/2003)
Last Updated: 18:45 IST(25/2/2003)

Congress seems to be leading the race for supremacy in the north-east region despite a spirited challenge from a slew of other parties.

The three states of Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura go to the polls on Wednesday along with Himachal Pradesh in north India to pick new assemblies.

Unlike in the past, electioneering in all three states have been devoid of any colour and fanfare, with political parties resorting to street corner meetings as well as house-to-house campaigning trying to woo voters.

According to political pundits, the Congress has emerged as the main contender for power in all three states although the ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) claims it is firmly entrenched in Tripura.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), although not a major force in the region, is desperately trying to make political inroads into predominantly Christian region.

Accordingly, it has kept out of its poll campaign the divisive issue of Hindutva, which critics say aims to convert India into a Hindu Rashtra.

The role of the influential Church in Nagaland and Meghalaya could prove decisive for any political party coming to power. The church had earlier issued guidelines asking voters not to vote for parties having religious bias.

As always, separatist groups in the region have dictated terms to political parties, holding out threats and carrying out a string of attacks, targeting candidates as well as supporters who do not subscribe to or toe their line.

In Tripura, the outlawed National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) has killed at least 30 CPI-M supporters in the past one month in what is being described as a systematic attempt at creating panic in the ruling leftist camp.

The CPI-M accuses the NLFT of backing Congress candidates across the state and of threatening and intimidating leftist supporters in tribal dominated areas.

In Nagaland too, the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) is openly supporting the BJP and other regional parties to keep the Congress from coming to power for a third successive term.

In Meghalaya, where political ideology holds no meaning, political loyalties are unheard of.

The state saw six different governments comprising weird political combinations and four chief ministers in a span of five years since the last elections in 1998.

The outgoing government is headed by Flinder Anderson Khonglam, a doctor by profession and elected as an independent from Shora (Cherrapunjee) constituency.

Meghalaya was in fact the best example of political manipulation and horse-trading. Of the 60 legislators elected in 1998, only two failed to become ministers in the last five years.

And this time too, one cannot expect anything better with the state heading towards another hung legislature with voters unsure about which party to vote for.

The mood is best summed up in the outgoing chief minister's own words.

"I am a living example about politics being the art of the possible. Anyone can become chief minister here and any party can form the government," Khonglam boasted.

Tens of thousands of security personnel have taken up positions in the region to prevent separatist groups from hijacking the election process.


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