Northeastern View | Lok Sabha election results reveal subtle but critical ground shifts in Northeast India - Hindustan Times
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Northeastern View | Lok Sabha election results reveal subtle but critical ground shifts in Northeast India

Jun 08, 2024 08:00 AM IST

The Northeast mirrors the fair mix of gains and losses made by both the ruling party and the newly stitched opposition alliance across the country.

In total, the seven states of Northeast India send just 24 lawmakers to the Parliament. That’s less than what ten other states in India individually send to New Delhi to represent their people. Yet, the region exhibits electoral trends that are no less complex or fascinating than the “mainland” states – something that is often blithely overlooked by the mainstream media.

People stand in a queue to cast their votes as voting starts in the first phase of India's general election at a polling station at Nagaon district, in the country's northeastern state of Assam on April 19, 2024. (Photo by Biju BORO / AFP)(AFP) PREMIUM
People stand in a queue to cast their votes as voting starts in the first phase of India's general election at a polling station at Nagaon district, in the country's northeastern state of Assam on April 19, 2024. (Photo by Biju BORO / AFP)(AFP)

On that count, the results of the 2024 general election in the northeast states do not disappoint. They indicate both change and continuity, offer a glimpse into the region’s political future, and reveal some fundamental tensions between various ideologies at play.

Gains and losses

At the outset, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has managed to largely maintain its existing voter base in most of the region. It also managed to increase its vote share by 1.6% and add two more seats to its 2019 tally in Assam – Northeast’s largest and most populous state. In Tripura, it added a substantial 17.7% to its 2019 vote share while retaining the two existing seats. But this is not the full story.

The alliance, which is dominated by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) nationally and operates in the Northeast through the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), failed to add additional seats to its 2019 tally, except in Assam where it won two more seats through the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and United People's Party, Liberal (UPPL).

In fact, the NDA lost four of its existing seats across three states – Manipur, Nagaland and Meghalaya. The Mizo National Front (MNF), which contested alone but is an NDA member, also lost its seat in Mizoram.

The NDA, except in Assam and Tripura, also lost vote shares in all other states – with the biggest drop in Manipur (by 23.4%) where it also lost the two seats held by the BJP and its local partner, the Naga People’s Front (NPF). The ruling coalition’s dramatic collapse in Manipur is most likely to do with the failure of both the BJP-led Imphal and New Delhi governments to restore peace and stability after more than a year of ethnic violence between the Meitei and Kuki-Zo communities. Even in Arunachal Pradesh, where it otherwise remains popular, the BJP’s vote share came down by nearly 18%.

The INDIA bloc, which fought in most of the region through the Indian National Congress (INC), made gains. Except in Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram, the new alliance increased its vote shares in all the states, including Assam where one of its candidates, Rakibul Hussain, won by a record margin of more than 10 lakh votes. The INC, once dominant across most of the region, added three more seats to its 2019 tally.

It made its biggest return in Manipur, winning back both the seats that it had lost to the NDA in 2019. It also increased its vote share by a massive 47.59%, the largest for any party contesting parliamentary elections in Manipur since 2014.

But, just south of Manipur, the INC’s vote share in Mizoram slipped by 28.13% – an extension of the outcome of the December 2023 assembly election where voters rejected the party (along with the MNF) to elect an entirely new party called the Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM).

In another perfect repeat of the state polls, the ZPM candidate also dislodged his MNF counterpart to win the sole Lok Sabha seat in the state. In Tripura, while the INC, which fought alongside the CPI(M), faced a clear NDA wave, it lost its vote share only by a small margin of 1.4%.

Shifting grounds?

Two key trends emerge from these numbers.

One, voters in some of the states have rejected candidates fielded by the ruling parties of those states. This was so in Manipur, Meghalaya, and Nagaland – where the BJP, the National People’s Party (NPP) and the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP), respectively, lost their existing seats.

Interestingly, all three parties are NDA members. Not only that, all of them lost their seats to the INC. This falls in line with a broader choice that voters in some other “mainland” states, like Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, made – rejecting the NDA (or BJP) and embracing the INDIA Alliance.

This could also be seen as part of an impending anti-incumbency wave in upcoming assembly elections in the Northeast. Conversely, it throws up an opening for the INDIA Alliance to deepen and broaden its influence in the region.

Two, the NDA’s losses in seats and vote shares in at least four states reanimate a lingering tension between Hindutva nationalism and local ethnonationalism. The latter strand of politics includes a mix of linguistic, territorial and non-Hindu religious nationalisms – all of which play out in overlapping layers across the region. It is, especially, possible that the BJP’s bellicose Hindu nationalist rhetoric in Assam and “mainland states” alienated Christian voters in Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya and Mizoram. In these states, the saffron party’s ethnocentric allies bore the brunt.

In all, the Northeast mirrors the fair mix of gains and losses made by both the ruling party and the newly stitched opposition alliance across the country. Yet, it is noteworthy that the opposition has made a theatrical comeback across large parts of the “mainland”, undercutting the BJP’s dominance in Indian politics over the last decade. In this regard, the Northeast too reveals a shift in the needle, but only if one reads between the lines. It is subtle but visible to the discerning eye.

Angshuman Choudhury is an Associate Fellow with the Centre for Policy Research, and focuses on Northeast India and Myanmar. The views expressed are personal.

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