With the conclusion of phase two of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections on April 18, most of the Northeast has completed polling with only Assam and Tripura remaining. The single constituency states of Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim as well as the twin constituency states of Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya completed polling in the first phase. Manipur’s hills went to the polls in the first phase, and the valley voted in the second. Assam and Tripura are set to complete polling in the third phase. By and large, polling was peaceful barring a few incidents of violence and violations of the Model Code of Conduct.
Though Arunachal Pradesh was scheduled to complete the Assembly and Lok Sabha polls in the first phase on April 11, due to violence and vandalism, repolls in 19 stations will be held on April 20. The state witnessed a voter turn-out of 66%.
Opposition parties have accused workers of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for indulging in attacks on opposition candidates and in some cases even damaging the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) with hammers. Candidates contesting for the National People’s Party (NPP) have alleged that the rival BJP candidates have colluded with workers of both the Khaplang as well as the Isak-Muivah factions of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN). Two workers of the NPP were allegedly abducted by members of the Naga underground in Longding. In a few cases, the EVMs have been found to be malfunctioning and in one case, the polling agents met with an accident while returning the EVMs resulting in the EVMs getting damaged.
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The ruling BJP has rubbished the claims of electoral malpractice and instead has blamed the Congress for attempting to intimidate the saffron party’s supporters. Bamang Felix accused Congress party workers of stopping his vehicle during campaigning and making an attempt on his life with daos (machetes).
The past five elections for Arunachal Pradesh’s two Lok Sabha constituencies of Arunachal West and Arunachal East have largely seen a contest between the Congress and the BJP. Gegong Apang’s Arunachal Congress won both constituencies in 1998, with margins of 23.31% in Arunachal West and 20.28% in Arunachal East. The state party remained relevant in Arunachal West till the 2009 elections where they were twice the runners up, in 1999 and 2004. In 2009, Takam Sanjoy of the Congress won with a slim margin of 0.94% against Kiren Rijiju. However, in 2014, Rijiju won with a larger margin of 24.64%. Arunachal East became a contest between the Congress and BJP since the 1999 elections.
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The elections for Manipur’s two Lok Sabha constituencies, Inner Manipur and Outer Manipur have been split between phases one and two. Predominantly tribal Outer Manipur went to the polls in phase one. The voter turn-out was reported as being 78.2 %. After the conclusion of the second phase, Manipur recorded an aggregate turn-out of over 80%.
Phase one was marred by allegations of booth capturing, voter intimidation and post-poll violence. Repolls were conducted in 19 stations in the Outer Manipur constituency along with the Inner Manipur polls in the second phase. The Naga People’s Front (NPF) has alleged a conspiracy to conduct repolls mostly in the Naga-dominated areas. They also alleged that the BJP has registered a first information report (FIR) under a fictitious name of Lucky Riha alleging that the NSCN(IM) has been intimidating voters to vote for the NPF. At a press conference, the NPF produced a person called Luckysom Kashung from Riha village to clarify that he had nothing to do with the FIR.
The Gorkha community of Poudel Basti witnessed booth capturing as well as post-poll violence when alleged supporters of the NPF snatched voter slips and barged into the polling booth. Later, they abducted some members of the community who were released after police intervention.
Inner Manipur has not been free of allegations and counter-allegations either. Both the Congress as well as the Communist Party of India (CPI) have demanded repolls in over 25 polling stations. Both parties have alleged booth capturing, whereas the CPI candidate Dr. M. Nara levelled allegations of proxy voting. Nara is perceived to be a popular candidate and has been endorsed by the state units of the Janata Dal (Secular) as well as the Trinamool Congress apart from the allied Left parties. Members of the state units of the Congress and the BJP see him as a most probable runner up.
Looking at the past five Lok Sabha elections, in the Inner Manipur Constituency, the CPI finished as the runner up consecutively in the past three elections. The lowest margin was 11.85% in 2004 and the largest, 32.41% in 2014. Whereas, for Outer Manipur, the CPI won once in 1998 with a margin of 0.78% and hasn’t featured as a runner up.
Apart from a minor hiccup in the Selsella Assembly constituency, Meghalaya has witnessed peaceful polling. Elections to the two Lok Sabha constituencies of Shillong and Tura were held in the first phase. Former Congress Chief Minister, Mukul Sangma, vacated his Assembly seat to contest the Tura Lok Sabha seat. Past trends have shown that Tura has been a bastion for late P.A. Sangma and his family. His daughter Agatha Sangma also won from Tura, as did his son and present Meghalaya Chief Minister, Conrad Sangma. At present, Agatha Sangma is contesting this seat for the NPP. Mukul Sangma’s contest therefore can be perceived to be a direct challenge to the Sangmas of the NPP.
Similarly, the Shillong seat has been a Congress bastion for nine of the past 11 elections. Vincent Pala is recontesting from this seat. To challenge him is Dr. Jemino Mawthoh from the United Democratic Party (UDP) a coalition partner of the NPP-led Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA). Another member of this alliance hoping to unseat Vincent Pala is Sanbor Shullai who has contested on a BJP ticket. Shullai got into trouble on polling day for speaking to the media inside the polling station. He is also alleged to have assaulted the presiding officer for preventing him from speaking to the press. Shullai’s comments on the fateful day were related to the BJP’s pet Citizenship Amendment Bill where he is reported to have said that he would commit suicide in front of Prime Minister Modi before the Bill can be passed.
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Mizoram recorded a voter turn-out of 61.29% for the lone Lok Sabha seat in phase one. Like during the Assembly elections, the Bru voter issued once again cropped up. Mizo civil society threatened to boycott the polls if once again special provisions were made to allow the displaced Brus living in Tripura to cast their votes at special booths along the Mizoram-Tripura border. However, nothing of the sort occurred and voting took place peacefully.
The lone woman candidate campaigned on a platform that she received divine instructions to contest the polls. Meanwhile, the central BJP irked their state unit by fielding Nirupam Chakma. The state unit has expressed its apprehension of fielding a Chakma candidate as opposed to a Mizo one. The reason being that at the height of the agitation against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, the mood in Mizoram against the Bill was aimed at the Chakma community who the Mizos believe are from Bangladesh. The Mizo National Front (MNF) has fielded C Lalrosanga, a former Indian Broadcasting and Program Service officer and former Director General of Doordarshan. The MNF had delivered a crushing defeat to the Congress in the assembly elections in December last year.
Peoples’ Representation for Identity and Status of Mizoram (PRISM), an anti-corruption organisation-turned-political party has fielded TBC Lalvenchhunga, a retired member of the Indian Navy. Lalvenchhunga received a good amount of coverage when he spoke of ‘secession’, though his comments were in relation to Mizoram seceding from the ambit of the Citizenship Amendment Bill.
Mizoram’s voting preference as evidenced from the past five elections does not display any definite trends. In the 1998 and 1999 elections, independent candidates won. While the Congress was a runner up in 1998, in 1999, the runner up was another independent candidate. In fact, from 1999, independent candidates have remained the runners up. In 2004, the MNF won, after which, the Congress won twice.
The state unit of the Congress has alleged that deputy Chief Minister Y Patton violated the Model Code of Conduct when he entered the polling booth with several voter slips and displayed a BJP scarf. The Returning Officer has, however, not ordered repolling in any booth in Nagaland. Apart from this incident, polling has been peaceful. Former rivals have turned allies in the state with the Naga People’s Front (NPF) choosing to back the Congress candidate, KL Chishi. The Nationalist Democratic Peoples’ Party (NDPP)-led Peoples Democratic Alliance (PDA) has fielded Tokheho Yepthomi. The other two candidates are Hayithung Tungoe of the NPP and independent candidate, Dr. MM Thromwa Konyak.
For the NPF, the Congress manifesto sealed the deal since the Congress had promised a review of AFSPA as well as strengthening the Northeast Council. Despite formerly being aligned with the BJP, the NPF has taken umbrage with the promises of reviving the Citizenship Amendment Bill and abrogating Articles 370 and 35A. The NPF reasoning is that if Jammu and Kashmir’s special status can be under threat, so can Nagaland’s coveted 371A.
Since 2004, the fight in Nagaland has been consistently between the NPF and the Congress, with the NPF having the upper hand. However, due to Neiphieu Rio’s departure from the NPF and the establishment of the NDPP, outcomes can be a lot more uncertain.
Sikkim went to the polls in the first phase for both the Assembly and Lok Sabha. With a voter turnout of 69% the contest in the state is between two regional parties, the ruling Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) and the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM). The contest is most sharply felt in case of the assembly seat, rather than the lone Lok Sabha seat. The SKM had initially appeared to have stitched an alliance with the BJP, however, just before the polls, the two parted ways. Incidentally, the word on the grapevine is that this is merely a facade.
In 1994, the SDF’s vote share was the lowest in its history, yet it formed the government after winning 19 of the 32 seats contested with a vote share of 42%. What was perhaps the party’s greatest success was the 2009 elections when they received 65.91% of the votes polled and won every seat they contested in the 32 member Assembly. At this time, there were nine parties in the fray, of which only the Congress was contesting all 32 seats. The Congress received 27.64% of the vote share. In the 2014 assembly elections, despite the SDF receiving around 55% of the vote share, they lost 10 seats to the SKM who received around 40% of the votes. The lowest vote share the SDF ever gained was in 1994 at 42% and 19 seats. The runner up in that election was the SSP who received around 35% of the votes and 10 seats.
In terms of the Lok Sabha elections, the SDF has never received a vote share lower than 52% – in 1999 – for the lone Lok Sabha seat. However, 2014 was certainly a turning point for the party as it was then that the SDF received its next lowest vote share. In 1999, former Sikkim Chief Minister, Nar Bahadur Bhandari’s Sikkim Sangram Parishad (SSP) received around 42% of the votes with the Congress being the only other party in the fray. In 2014, with both the Congress and the BJP contesting as well, the SKM was able to receive around 40% of the vote share. The SDF, however, walked away with a vote-share of 53.74% and a margin of 25.3%.
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