The Election Commission on January 18 fixed February 16 as the date for the Tripura Assembly elections and February 27 for the elections to the Nagaland and Meghalaya assemblies, with the counting of votes scheduled for March 2.
Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Rajiv Kumar’s announcement at a press conference in New Delhi marked the official start of the first round of Assembly elections in the new year, in which nine States are headed for elections, deemed crucial in the run-up to the all-important Lok Sabha contest in 2024.
The three election-bound north-eastern States may be small in terms of their electoral size but hold larger political significance. While the BJP is pulling out all the stops to retain power in Tripura and expand its footprint in the two other States, the Congress and the Left are trying to recapture their lost influence.
The Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) is also making a determined bid to prove its clout outside West Bengal by contesting these polls.
The three State assemblies 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 assemblies end on March 15 and March 22 respectively. Kumar said the EC has decided to wrap up the polls in February, taking into account the examinations scheduled in March.
With Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati recently questioning the integrity of electronic voting machines (EVMs), the CEC noted that many political parties that had expressed doubts over the machines earlier had won elections through the same process.
While Tripura has a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) is in power in Nagaland. The National People’s Party (NPP), the only political party from the north-east that has the recognition of a national party, runs the government in Meghalaya.
The Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) are expected to join hands to take on the BJP in Tripura, where the Left ruled for 25 years while the Congress was its main rival, before the saffron wave swept aside both in the 2018 polls.
The Congress had long been a dominant player in the north-east, before the BJP’s rise to power at the Centre gradually relegated it to a pale shadow of itself. While the BJP is the junior partner in the governments in Nagaland and Meghalaya, it has been on an overdrive to strengthen its presence in these States.
BJP president J.P. Nadda, in his recent address at the saffron party’s national executive, called upon its members to ensure the victory of the party in all the nine State Assembly elections scheduled for this year. He noted that the year is crucial in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.