Counting day: Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura battle to start 2023 election season
2023 Assembly elections: Three northeastern states lead a total of 12 voting this year before Indians march to polling booths again next year to vote for a new prime minister.
The battle for three northeastern states - Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura - Thursday marks the beginning of the 2023 election season, with the BJP bidding for a winning start and the opposition hoping to bring down Prime Minister Narendra Modi's outfit or, at the very least, cripple it before the bigger states vote later this year and certainly before next year's Lok Sabha poll.
Tripura voted on February 16 while Meghalaya and Nagaland both voted on Monday. Each state has a 60-member Assembly with the majority mark set at 31. However, voting in the latter two were restricted to 59 each. Polling for Meghalaya's Sohiong was deferred after the death of a candidate and Nagaland's Akuluto elected a BJP leader by default after his Congress rival withdrew.
Several larger states - including Congress-ruled Rajasthan, BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka, and Telangana - will also vote this year, as will Mizoram, but since the season begins with these three states, this is what we think you should know about each before votes are counted.
2018 election: In 2018, the Congress won 21 seats but hope of a post-poll coalition to retain power for a third term were dashed after Conrad Sangma's National People's Party (20 seats) tied up with the BJP (three seats), the United Democratic Party (six seats) and others to form the government.
2023 exit polls Meghalaya is a difficult state to conquer - the last time any party crossed the majority mark on its own steam was 1972, when the All Party Hill Leaders Conference won 32 seats.
Coalition governments are the norm here and that trend is widely expected to continue.
Exit polls give Sangma's NPP a maximum of 26 seats and allies BJP a maximum of 11. The Congress is not expected to play a major role here, with a projected maximum of only six seats.ALSO READ: Meghalaya CM Conrad Sangma's big hint after exit polls predict hung assembly
Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress and independent candidates, as well as those from smaller parties, will likely end up as kingmakers. The former may get as many as 14 seats.ALSO READ: Meghalaya election results: Ahead of counting of votes, all eyes on these seats
2018 election: Five years ago - in a scenario not very different from Meghalaya's - the Naga People's Front emerged as the largest party with 26 seats. Their hopes of power, though, were scuttled by the BJP (again) and its ally the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party, who had 30 seats between them and support from a few other lawmakers. The BJP and the NPF dissolved their alliance before polling.
2023 exit polls
There is unlikely to be a repeat of the last election's hung Assembly this year, given multiple exit polls give the BJP-NDPP alliance a big win - between 35 and a massive 49 seats, in fact.
The Congress is expected to be routed; some exit polls say it will not win a single seat.
The NPF will likely end up with less than a dozen seats - a huge drop from the 2018 poll.ALSO READ: Nagaland Assembly election result 2023: Key candidates and constituencies
The BJP-led alliance scored an easy win here in 2018, with the combine claiming 36 seats.ALSO READ: Tripura assembly elections 2023: Key seats, candidates to watch out for
2023 exit polls
Which way will Tripura swing? Exit polls believe the BJP won't canter to a win as easily as it could in Nagaland but also that it will enjoy more positive returns than in Meghalaya.
The party-led National Democratic Alliance, which includes the Indigenous People's Front of Tripura for now, is expected to win 21 to 45 seats, meaning it should (if just) reach the magic figure of 31.
The Congress has allied with the Left Front and the combination does present something of a dark horse, with pollsters divided on how they may perform. They have been given a minimum of just six seats and a maximum of 24, meaning they could play a big role in deciding the BJP alliance's fate.
The other potential kingmaker here is the Tipra Motha - founded by royal family head Pradyot Bikram Manikya Deb Barma in 2019 - which is handed between nine and 17 seats.