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The 2013 Assembly Elections in the North-East

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  • March 22, 2013

    State Assembly Elections held in Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura in February 2013 threw up a clear mandate in favour of the ruling (coalition) parties in Tripura and Nagaland, although a fractured one in Meghalaya. Political analysts suggest that these results stand testimony to the people’s desire to maintain the status quo. The so-called anti-incumbency factor did not work in these elections.

    Tripura

    Legislative Assemblies in each of the three states have 60 seats. In Tripura, with a total of 49 seats won by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and one seat by the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Left coalition has improved on its tally in 2008. According to CPI-M sources, peace and all-round development under the long spell of the Left Front government factored in the landslide victory of the Left coalition1. The Congress high command sent a central observer, Luizinho Faleiro, to Tripura along with Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi to review the political situation in the state in the wake of the party’s debacle. Faleiro was booed and heckled by irate Congress supporters, a clear demonstration of their sheer frustration. There was post-poll violence across the State and many people were injured2. Tripura Chief Minister, Manik Sarkar, alleged that Congress has allied with the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura (INPT), which is headed by former rebel leader, Bijoy Kumar Hrangkhwal. In a booklet on insurgency in Tripura, issued by the CPI-M, the Congress and INPT combine have been charged with using extremist elements during the Assembly Elections. For its part, the State Congress argued that insurgency has increased due to the politics of exclusion practiced by the Left parties.

    The Tripura Chief Electoral Officer, Ashutosh Jindal, told Economic Times that “There are reports of insurgent activities along the international border with Bangladesh.” That means that the insurgency is not yet over, and that the insurgent groups are just lying low. The indigenous nationalists still hold a grudge against the Bengali immigrants who now outnumber the local population. Given this situation, the continuance of Left Front rule, which derives its support base mainly from these immigrants, can rekindle feelings about the demographic imbalance, a result of immigration from across the border over many years, and its effects on the political, social and economic life of the indigenous population. In other words, the unrest in Tripura revolves around the protection of indigenous people’s interests against an overwhelming demographic threat. Therefore, the advocates of peace cannot be too optimistic while suggesting that the recent poll verdict is a significant step towards ending insurgency in the state. Of course, the elections, which upheld the status quo and political stability, will facilitate the Left Front government in sustaining the peace initiatives that it has undertaken during the last five years.

    Meghalaya

    In Meghalaya the Congress Party won 29 seats in the 60-member State Assembly. The fractured mandate reflects the inability of political parties to project substantive issues in the run-up to the recent elections. Since the creation of Meghalaya State in 1972, only one Chief Minister has been able to complete his full term3. Chief Minister Mukul Sangma maintains that the problem of insurgency is an offshoot of poor economic conditions. Many other leaders have also flagged that development is the key to solving the problem of insurgency in the state. Though Meghalaya is seen as a relatively peaceful state, the state government while approaching the Ministry of Home Affairs for sending more paramilitary forces on the eve of the Assembly Elections, expressed concern about militant groups using Shillong as a corridor4. Meghalaya has been facing problems of youth unrest arising from the divide between tribal and non-tribal settlers and identity issues, besides the fear of reducing the native tribals to a minority. In an insurgency-prone state like Meghalaya, the fractured electoral mandate that can otherwise make political instability almost predictable would not help guarantee development in the state. But then, as the Chief Minister pointed out economic backwardness or deprivation is the main causes of insurgency, and development is therefore crucial to sustaining peace in the state.

    Nagaland

    The Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) retained power in Nagaland by winning 39 seats. For the Naga People’s Front (NPF), it is a morale boosting improvement on its tally of 26 seats in 2008. The NPF, with the tacit support of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM), projected itself as the party fully committed to bringing an honourable and acceptable solution to the Naga issue. Thus, the central plank of the Nagaland Assembly Elections 2013 was the Naga peace process.

    The ruling party—the NPF—avoided the risk of banking on the politics of development, since such an agenda would have become an issue of debate. By putting the “one of the biggest enemies of the Naga people” tag on Okram Ibobi Singh, Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphu Rio had cleverly played with the Naga people’s sentiment. It was also a well-calculated ploy to corner the Congress for indecision on the so-called Alternative Arrangement for the Nagas. Most of the political parties indulged in mud-slinging on the eve of the polls. S.C. Jamir, a Congress party stalwart and former Chief Minister, questioned whether the NSCN-IM was interested in the peace talks or in the Nagaland Assembly Elections. He alleged that Neiphu Rio and NSCN-IM leader, Thuingaleng Muivah, were hand in hand in hoodwinking the Naga people by using the slogan “Naga Solution before Election” as the central plank of their campaign. For his part, Neiphu Rio charged the Congress party high command with using Central forces—the Assam Rifles—and Central agencies to work against the NPF.

    In the wake of its victory, the NPF government would now be under further pressure to pursue the “Greater Nagaland” or “Nagalim” agenda. The Congress also used the Naga peace issue – ‘settlement of the Naga problem’ – to woo voters5. On the other hand, the NSCN-IM’s concept of “one people to live under one political roof” has provoked adverse reactions from a cross-section of Manipur’s population including the majority Meiteis, Muslims and Kukis and to a lesser extent from Assam and Arunachal Pradesh whose territorial interests are also at stake. The Government of Manipur reiterated its position when Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh conveyed to the Union Home Minister and other central leaders that the United Naga Council (UNC)’s demand for an alternative administrative arrangement for the Nagas in Manipur beyond the jurisdiction of the state government cannot be accepted, and that any Naga solution should not be at the cost of Manipur’s territorial integrity and interest. The UNC, in turn, has advocated the severance of political ties with the Government of Manipur while embarking upon the dialogue on the demand for an “Alternative Arrangement outside the Government of Manipur”6. Further complicating the issue is the call by the Kuki Inpi Manipur (KIM), an apex body of Kuki civil society, which has urged the Centre to exercise restraint and has also asserted that “any alternative arrangement for the Nagas of Manipur before any political solution for the Kukis of Manipur will not be acceptable”7. Another dimension to the contentious Naga political issue has been added by the Eastern Naga People’s Organisation (ENPO)’s demand for the creation of a “Frontier Nagaland” state by carving out the four eastern districts of the current Nagaland State.

    While Congress President Sonia Gandhi, while launching the party’s election campaign in Nagaland, dwelt at length on rising corruption, unemployment and diversion of funds under NPF rule and also mentioned that the party was committed to do the utmost to ensure that peace returned to the state in a manner that was honourable and acceptable to all the sections of the people, it is difficult to foresee how the square can be circled. With the elections now over, the focus will shift to New Delhi and the Naga tangle is certainly a big litmus test for the Centre.

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