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Number Theory: Decoding the electoral contest in three states

By, New Delhi
Jan 19, 2023 12:27 PM IST

The Election Commission of India (ECI) announced dates for assembly elections to three states – Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura – on January 18.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) announced assembly elections to three states – Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura – on January 18. The Tripura elections will take place on February 16, while Meghalaya and Nagaland will vote on February 27. The counting of votes will take place on March 2. Here are four charts that explain the nature of the contests.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) panel during the press conference on upcoming elections in Nagaland, Meghalaya and Tripura at Akashwani Bhawan in New Delhi, on Wednesday, January 18, 2023. (Photo by Raj K Raj/HT) PREMIUM
The Election Commission of India (ECI) panel during the press conference on upcoming elections in Nagaland, Meghalaya and Tripura at Akashwani Bhawan in New Delhi, on Wednesday, January 18, 2023. (Photo by Raj K Raj/HT)

BJP and its allies are in power in all three states

All three states which are going to polls in the current election cycle are ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies. While the BJP has a chief minister in Tripura, it is sharing power with the National People’s Party (NPEP) of Conrad Sangma in Meghalaya and the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party of Neiphiu Rio in Nagaland. The BJP’s seat share is significantly higher in Tripura than Meghalaya or Nagaland but its vote share has increased significantly in all three states in the 2018 elections.

Tripura is demographically very different from Meghalaya and Nagaland

While Tripura is a Hindu majority state – the share of Hindus is 84.5% as per the 2019-21 National Family and Health Survey (NFHS) and 83.4% according to the 2011 census – Nagaland and Meghalaya are two out of three Christian majority states in India, the third one being Mizoram. To be sure, reading the religious composition of these states mechanically can lead to wrong conclusions. Tripura’s politics has traditionally been polarized along the lines of Bengalis and Scheduled Tribes (STs). The 2011 census shows that Bengali was the mother tongue of 65.7% of Tripura’s population, while 31.7% of the state/s population identifies as ST in the census. Similarly, the ST population in Nagaland and Meghalaya comprises various tribes.

Can a grand alliance challenge the BJP in Tripura?

Tripura is the only state in this election cycle where three political parties that have a significant footprint outside the state are in the political fray. While the BJP will look to come back to power, the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI (M) are trying to form a grand alliance to take on the BJP. The CPI (M), which ruled the state continuously from 1983 to 2018, suffered a shock defeat at the hands of a pre-poll alliance of the BJP with Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT). An analysis of combined vote share of the CPI (M) and Congress in the 2019 elections suggests that the BJP is comfortably ahead of the opposition. However recent desertions from the BJP and the non-committal attitude of the IPFT on an alliance might lead to state elections going in a different direction.

Candidates may matter more than the party in Meghalaya and Nagaland

The electoral history of the two states suggests that at least in Meghalaya and Nagaland, candidates are more likely to switch parties, as the chief ministers of these states themselves have not been lifelong members of the parties they currently belong to. Data collated on candidates by the Trivedi Centre for Political Data (TCPD) bears this out. In the latest election held in all states, Nagaland and Meghalaya had one of the highest proportions of candidates who were turncoats. This is despite TCPD using a relaxed criteria for defining a turncoat. It calls a candidate a turncoat only if their party in the last election was different, and not so if the candidate’s party was different more than one election ago.

Does this make election results meaningless in Meghalaya and Nagaland? At least not for the voters in these states. Another set of statistics, based on a post-poll survey by CSDS-Lokniti conducted in 2018, suggests that voters may not see candidates switching parties as necessarily a bad thing. A majority of the respondents of the survey in these states said that candidate rather than party, chief ministerial candidate, or community considerations drove their voting choice.

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