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Meghalaya, Nagaland assembly polls today; security amped up

Feb 27, 2023 12:39 AM IST

Nagaland and Meghayala will go to polls on Monday and the counting of votes will take place on March 2.

The campaigning for the assembly polls in Nagaland and Meghalaya ended on Saturday afternoon, and all eyes are now on the voters of the two northeastern states who will cast their ballots on Monday. The security arrangements have been amped up for a smooth conduct of the polling while political parties made their last-ditch attempt to woo voters.

An election rally in Meghalaya’s West Garo Hills on Friday. (ANI Photo)

On Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a rally in Nagaland’s commercial hub Dimapur, took part in road shows in Meghalaya capital Shillong and in Tura and also attended two public meetings in both places. The BJP campaign also saw Union home minister Amit Shah and party’s national president JP Nadda addressing rallies in both the poll-bound states.

On the other hand, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge addressed a rally in Dimapur and senior leader Rahul Gandhi took part in a public meeting in Shillong.

Both Meghalaya and Nagaland are Christian-majority states and in their meetings, Kharge and Gandhi told voters that their religion and culture would be under threat if the BJP comes to power. But Modi in his speeches assuaged voters that nothing of that sort would happen and the BJP doesn’t have bias towards any religion.

In Nagaland, the Naga Peoples’ Front (NPF), which secured nearly 39% of total votes, had emerged as the single largest party in the 60-member assembly by bagging 26 seats in 2018 polls. But the alliance of the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) and the BJP, which bagged 17 and 12 seats respectively, was able to form government.

This time too, both the NDPP and the BJP are contesting on the old seat-sharing formula of 40 seats for the regional partner and 20 seats for the national party. The Congress is contesting on 23 seats, the NPF in 22 and the Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas) in 15. A total of 183 candidates are in the fray.

Nagaland is yet to elect a woman MLA in the state’s 60-year history and all eyes are now on the four women candidates (of the total 183) to see whether they will be able to break the dubious record.

One BJP candidate from Akuluto seat has already been declared elected unopposed.

Removal of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), which gives sweeping powers to security forces, and a solution to the decades-old Naga political issue were again in focus in this election in Nagaland.

“Promises of AFSPA removal and Naga political solution are used as regular enticements by parties. That is rather demeaning for Nagas. Not mentioning any political party per se but use of money power in Nagaland poll campaign is extreme this time around,” said Visakhonu Hibo, principal of Japfu Christian College in Nagaland.

“Nagas desperately need a new crop of pro-people leaders. We are no longer uneducated tribals to be carried away by a media-savvy poster boy or two,” said social activist Kevitho Kera.

In Meghalaya, the Congress had emerged as the single largest party in 2018 winning 21 seats of the total 60. But the National Peoples’ Party, which bagged 19 seats, was able to form government with support of the BJP (2) and the legislators from the regional parties and Independents.

For this election, the BJP and the Congress have fielded candidates in all 60 seats while the NPP and the TMC have fielded 57 and 56 candidates respectively. In 2021, the TMC, which had won no seats five years ago, emerged as the main opposition after 12 Congress MLAs including former chief minister Mukul Sangma switched sides.

There are a total of 375 candidates in the fray. Other parties include United Democratic Party (46), Hill State Peoples Democratic Party (11), Peoples Democratic Front (9), Garo National Council (2) and Gana Suraksha Party (1). Two new parties, the Voice of People Party (18) and KAM Meghalaya (3), are also in the fray this time.

“The ruling NPP tried to show that a lot has been achieved on the ground in past five years and their campaign focused on that. The BJP campaign picked pace towards the end,” said H Srikanth, professor of political science at Shillong-based North Eastern Hill University (NEHU).

“There were a lot of dance and music and not much focus on real issues by most parties. Important issues like illegal coal mining and inner line permit (ILP) got sidelined,” he added.

The counting of votes will take place on March 2.

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