By Anupama Ghosh*
The two north-eastern states Meghalaya and Nagaland voted earlier this week. The counting of votes is scheduled on March 3, along with Tripura which voted on February 18. In both Meghalaya and Nagaland, anti-incumbency is a major factor. In Meghalaya, the Congress has been in power since 2008, while in Nagaland the Naga People’s Front has been ruling the state since 2003.
An equally important factor is the foray of the BJP in the region, with aggressive campaigning by Prime Minister Modi. What makes these elections significant is that prior to the 2014 general elections, the vote share of the BJP in the north-eastern states had been negligible. However, the party has since made significant inroads in the region, with the BJP and its allies forming the government in five of the seven north-eastern states.
Meghalaya- Assembly Elections 2013
In the previous elections, out of the total 60 seats, the Congress won 29 seats and entered into an alliance with the United Democratic Party which had won nine seats. For Congress this is a crucial election, as it has already lost its hold on the other regional states – Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur- to the BJP.
Apart from BJP, the three-party alliance of the United Democratic Party, Hill State People’s Democratic Party and Garo National Council might make the task of retaining power for Congress in Meghalaya difficult.
The question of Coal-mining in the Garo and Jaintia Hills
In the 1970s, coal-mining began on an unprecedented scale in the Garo and Jaintia Hills region of Meghalaya. This widespread mining,which often employed rudimentary techniques,damaged the environment. In 2014, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) imposed a ban on coalmining in the state, terming it unscientific and illegal. The ban rendered thousands unemployed andresulted in much ire against the Congress. Locals allege that while the ban lead to widespread loss of livelihood, the Congress government was unable toprovideother employment options.
It is estimated that Congress support might dwindle in the coal mining areas of the Jaintia and Garo hills, which together account for 31 of the 60 seats in the assembly- 7 in Jaintia and 24 in Garo Hills. The BJP and National People’s Party have promised to employ scientific mining methodsto commence mining in the area. The BJP has also promised to resume coal mining within 180 days of coming to power, while ensuring there are no harmful environmental fallouts.
Nagaland- Assembly Elections 2013
In the previous Assembly elections, the Naga People’s Front (NPF) had won 38 seats with 47% vote share. In a state where tribal loyalties are deemed significant, the ruling NPF has a formidable ground level organisation. However, in this election the biggest worry for the NPF would be the pre-poll alliance between the newly formed National Democratic Political Party (NDPP) and the BJP. In the 60 seat assembly, the BJP is contesting from 20 seats and the NDPP from the remaining 40 seats.
While the incumbent party faces charges of corruption and issues like unemployment and lack of development, it also had to contend with many of its influential leaders switching sides to the NDPP in the run-up to the elections.
The Question of Unemployment and Lack of Infrastructure
The Annual Employment-Unemployment Survey 2015-16 pegged the rate of unemployment in Nagaland at 8.9%, twice the national average of 4.8%. It also highlighted the urgent need to develop secondary and tertiary sectors of employment in the state.
Nagaland’s Economic Survey 2016 revealed the crumbling and inadequate infrastructure in the state. According to the report, despite a road density of 95%, access remains a major problem as many of the roads are dilapidated and prone to landslides which severely affect the transportation of people and goods during the monsoons. The gravity of the situation can be ascertained by the fact that Nagaland has only one airport and one rail track connecting Dimapur, its largest city, to the rest of the country.
In Nagaland, tribal and local allegiances have traditionally been major factors in influencing the voter. But in this Christian majority state, religion may play a major factor in the assembly polls for the first time. The Congress announced subsidised travel to the Christian Holy Land in its manifesto. While campaigning, the BJP promised free trips to Jerusalem to 50 senior citizens,who will be chosen randomly. Against this, the Nagaland Baptist Church Council, which represents around 1500 churches in the state, has made its reservations about the BJP, and particularly the RSS, public.
Both Nagaland and Meghalaya have recorded a voterturnout of 75% in this election. It would be interesting to see which of these issues- unemployment, poor infrastructure and development or religion- resounds with the electorate.
*Anupama Ghosh is Research Intern with CPPR. Views expressed in this article are personal and do not reflect those of CPPR.