New Delhi: Lok Sabha elections in the north-eastern states, except Assam, will be held over the first two of the seven phases of polling. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been poaching leaders of other parties and aligning with regional outfits. Mint decodes the region’s poll math.
What is the socio-religious dynamic in the region?
Tribals account for a large part of the North-East population, their proportion second only to that of Lakshadweep. Tribals form 94.43% of Mizoram’s population, followed by Nagaland and Meghalaya, where they account for 86-87% of the population. They constitute about a third of the population of Tripura and Sikkim. Christianity is the dominant religion in Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram. Buddhism is dominant in Sikkim, while Hindus comprise the majority in Tripura. In Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur, the number of Hindus and Christians is neck and neck.
What is the BJP’s game plan in the North-East?
The seven states have been neglected for decades, as each sends just one-two members to the Lok Sabha. Prime Minister Narendra Modi recognized their potential as a bloc, given that the states collectively have 11 Lok Sabha seats, besides Assam’s 14. In 2015, BJP poached Himanta Biswa Sarma, the right-hand man of then Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi of the Congress. Since then, BJP has aligned with regional outfits and poached young leaders and old-timers from the Congress and other parties. In 2016, the North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) was formed by BJP and some regional parties.
What has changed in the past five years?
Crores of rupees have been spent on creating infrastructure in the region, bringing it closer to the rest of the country through roads and air connectivity.
Which constituencies will see key contests?
In Arunachal West, Union minister Kiren Rijiju faces Khyoda Apik of NPP, BJP’s ally in NEDA, and Congress member and former chief minister Nabam Tuki. Two Sangmas—former chief minister Mukul Sangma of the Congress and NPP’s Agatha Sangma—will square off for the Tura seat in Meghalaya. Agatha is the daughter of the late Purno Sangma and her brother is chief minister Conrad Sangma. In Nagaland, the state’s largest party, NPF, is backing Congress’ K.L. Chishi against BJP ally NDPP’s Tokheho Yepthomi.
What are the key issues in the region?
Illegal immigration and lack of jobs worry the people of the North-East. BJP brought the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, but had to hold it back in the Rajya Sabha, where the party lacked numbers. BJP felt that the passage of the bill would fetch it Hindu votes in West Bengal. Assam and the North-East would have none of this, but the anger seems to have blown over for the time being. Religious considerations are likely to play a strong role in some of the north-eastern states.