THE Assembly elections in Meghalaya and Nagaland saw the incumbent governments register emphatic victories. In Meghalaya, the Congress was one seat short of the halfway mark. In Nagaland, the Naga People’s Front (NPF), secured a near two-thirds majority to govern the State for a third consecutive term. The Congress has been decimated here.
In Meghalaya, the Congress won 29 of the 60 seats, the highest number of seats won by the party since the creation of the State in 1972. Independents won the second biggest chunk of 13 seats, spoiling the game for both the Congress and the regional parties. In 2008, the Congress won only 25 seats but teamed up with regional parties to form the government.
The United Democratic Party (UDP), a key ally of the Congress in the outgoing Assembly, won eight seats against 11 in 2008. During the election campaign, it urged the voters to defeat the Congress. Another regional party, the Hill State People’s Democratic Party (HSPDP), won four seats, improving its tally by two seats.
Former Lok Sabha Speaker Purno Agitok Sangma’s National People’s Party (NPP), a regional party with some influence in Manipur, suffered a humiliating defeat in its electoral debut in Meghalaya. The NPP managed to win only two of the 32 seats it contested. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which won 15 seats under the leadership of Sangma in 2008, got two seats this time. The Garo National Council and the North East Social Democratic Party won one seat each.
The ninth Assembly will have 34 new faces, and 29 sitting members of the outgoing Assembly were defeated. Prominent winners include three former Chief Ministers—D.D. Lapang from the Nongpoh constituency and Salseng C. Marak from the Resubelpara constituency, both of whom contested on the Congress ticket, and Donkupar Roy of the UDP from the Shella constituency.
Prominent losers include former Deputy Chief Minister Bindo M. Lanong, Leader of the Opposition, and Sangma’s son Conrad Sangma. Chief Minister Mukul Sangma was elected with the highest margin of votes (9,096) from the Ampati constituency. Meghalaya, where the matrilineal system has deep roots, scripted history by electing four women candidates, all of them on the Congress ticket. There were 25 women candidates in the fray.
Led by Mukul Sangma, the Congress had launched an aggressive campaign urging voters to give a decisive mandate for a single-party government in order to bring stability to Meghalaya’s politics, while blaming the regional parties for the political instability in the State. Meghalaya has had 22 governments since its creation. Barring the first Assembly elections held in 1972, which gave a clear mandate to the All Party Hill Leaders Conference (APHLC) to form a single-party government, fractured mandates and hung Assemblies characterised all seven succeeding elections. Failure of the parties to make coalitions work and dissidence in the ruling parties led to frequent change of governments.
The Congress made development its major electoral plank, promising to push the development agenda further if it was given the mandate to form a single-party government. Meghalaya being a development-deficit State, this promise seems to have impressed voters. The UDP made corruption its major plank. The results indicated that the electorate saw the UDP’s promise to weed out corruption as mere “politics of convenience”. Voters perhaps did not take the UDP seriously because it was a partner in the previous Congress-led government. The UDP won 11 seats in 2008, 10 in the Khasi and Jaintia hills region and one in the Garo hills region. This time its presence was reduced to eight seats from the Khasi hills.
The five Garo hills districts, which account for 24 seats, held the key to power in Meghalaya this time. The Congress owes its improved tally to these districts, considered the traditional stronghold of Purno Sangma. The Congress won 13 of its 24 seats in the Garo hills, with the Chief Minister’s wife, Dikkanchi D. Shira, who made her electoral debut here, and his brother, Zenith M. Sangma, figuring among the Congress’ winners. In 2008, the party won seven seats in the Garo hills. In Khasi and Jaintia, the party won 16 seats, two fewer than in 2008.
NPF’s initiative helps In Nagaland, the NPF led by Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio swept the elections: it was 38 of the 59 seats to which elections were held. Riding on the crest of the positive wave created by the party’s promise of an honourable and acceptable “political settlement” to the vexed Naga political problem, the NPF-led Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) obtained the mandate to rule for a third term. In 2008, the NPF won 26 seats and formed the government with the support of its allies, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Janata Dal (United), and independents.
The Congress suffered a severe defeat. It won only eight seats against the 23 in 2008. Independents won seven seats, the NCP four and the BJP and the JD(U) one each. Neiphiu Rio was elected with the highest margin of vote (12,671) from the northern Angami-II constituency. Nagaland has never elected women candidates to the Assembly. The two women who were in the fray did not make it this time either. The Congress failed to win a seat in seven of the State’s 11 districts. Its eight seats came from four districts. On the other hand, the NPF won seats in all the 11 districts, consolidating its position.
Of the 19 seats in the eastern Nagaland region (comprising the four districts of Tuensang, Mon, Kiphire and Longleng), the NPF got 13 seats, the Congress one, the NCP two and the BJP one. One seat went to an independent. Polling was countermanded in the Tuensang Sadar-I constituency following the death of P. Chuba Chang of the Congress. In 2008, of the 20 seats in eastern Nagaland, the NPF and the Congress had won eight each, the BJP and the NCP one each and independents two. The Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation (ENPO), the banner organisation of six Naga tribes (Konyak, Yimchunger, Sangtam, Khiamniungan, Chang and Phom) living in this region, has been demanding the creation of a separate State called “Frontier Nagaland” comprising the four districts. The rejection of the demand for a separate State by the Centre perhaps prompted the electorates to reject the Congress outright and vote for the NPF and other non-Congress parties and send across a message to New Delhi.
Ahead of the elections, the NPF took the initiative of forming the Joint Legislators’ Forum (JLF) of the Nagaland Legislative Assembly on the Naga political issue. All 60 legislators, who were also members of the JLF, offered to quit their positions to facilitate an alternative political arrangement in the event of the Centre and the insurgent groups signing a peace deal.
As the insurgent National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isaac-Muivah) has been holding peace talks with the Government of India for the past 15 years, the NPF’s proactive role in the JLF seemed to have helped the ruling party to win popular support for a permanent solution to the Naga political issues.
Describing the verdict as a vote for “peace, development and stability”, Rio said the DAN’s third consecutive victory showed that “regionalism is here to stay in Nagaland”.
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