Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar with Election Commissioner Anup Chandra Pandey during a press conference for the announcement of schedule of general elections to the Legislative assemblies of Nagaland, Meghalaya and Tripura, in New Delhi. (PTI Photo/Shahbaz Khan)
New Delhi: The three north-eastern states — Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland — will vote in February, setting the stage for a mega-fight as nine states go to the polls this year. Announcing the dates, Chief Election Com-missioner Rajiv Kumar said voting in Tripura will take place on February 16, while Nagaland and Meghalaya will vote on February 27. The counting of votes is scheduled for March 2.
The model code of conduct is in place in these states after the announcement. Kumar said the Election Commission of India (ECI) has decided to wrap the polls in a single phase in February, taking into acc-ount CBSE Class 10th and 12th examinations scheduled in March.
The three states have a strength of 60 members each. While the term of the Nagaland Assembly ends on March 12, the terms of the Meghalaya and Tripura Houses end on March 15 and March 22, respectively.
The polls in nine states are seen as semi-finals before the Lok Sabha elections next year, where the BJP is hoping for a hat-trick. But before that, the party is facing challenges in various states where it is in power on its own or with allies.
The Congress, which has long dominated the Northeast political arena, and the CPI(M), which remained unrivalled for years under Manik Sarkar, who served as Chief Minister from 1998 to 2018, are both attempting to reclaim lost territory.
In Tripura, where the BJP is facing a united Opposition, the party is making efforts to retain power. During its five-year tenure, the BJP faced disquiet and infighting as important party leaders, like six-time MLA Sudip Roy Barman, quit the BJP to return to the Congress fold. As a result, the BJP had to replace chief minister Biplab Deb with Manik Saha, just nine months before the state election.
The BJP currently has 33 seats in Tripura, the Indigenous People's Front of Tripura has four, the CPI(M) has 15, and the Congress has one. Seven seats are vacant. The BJP and the IPFT are in alliance here. The Congress and the CPI(M) have joined hands to dethrone the BJP and recapture the state. Interestingly, the Congress was the main Opposition for the CPM when it ruled Tripura for 25 years.
The Trinamul Congress (TMC) is also working hard to make an impact outside West Bengal. However, the TMC and Tripura Motha are yet to announce alliances with other parties.
In Meghalaya, despite having the most seats (21), the Congress was unable to form a government because its tally fell short of the halfway mark in the 60-member Assembly.The National People’s Party (NPP) led by Conrad Sangma is in power with the backing of the BJP and others. The NPP has 20 seats, the United Democratic Party (UDP) has eight, the People’s Democratic Front (PDF) has two, the BJP has two and two are Independents. The TMC has nine seats in Meghalaya, while 18 seats are vacant. No pre-election alliance has been announced by any of the political parties so far.
In Nagaland, the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP), with 41 seats, is in power. The BJP has 12, the NPF has four and there are two independents. One seat is vacant. The NDPP-BJP have declared a pre-poll alliance in Nagaland.
"The BJP is always election ready and we are ready for the Assembly election. We have already carried out several outreach programmes, including the Jan Vishwas Yatra. Since election schedules have been declared, the campaign will be intensified for a landslide victory," Tripura BJP general secretary Papia Datta said. She added that the BJP-IPFT alliance will continue. "Our central leaders will be here to take decisions on any new partner," she said.
Senior CPI(M) leader Pabitra Kar said, "From our side, we are ready for the Assembly election in alliance with the Congress. I appeal to the EC to ensure a violence-free poll." He added that a Congress rally was attacked near Khumulwng in West Tripura district on Wednesday, the day the election dates were announced by the EC in New Delhi.
"I am happy that the youths have come out to join the bike rally taken out by our party in Agartala, despite threats and intimidation from the saffron brigade. I am confident the people will throw out the BJP in the coming election," said Congress leader in Tripura, Sudip Roy Barman.
TMC state president Pijush Kanti Biswas said the party is ready to contest the election with "full force" and talks are on for tie-ups with "suitable parties", though no concrete decision has been made as yet.