While the Northeast India witnessed a saffron ‘tsuNamo’ along with the rest of India in the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections with the BJP alone securing 14 seats, and the NDA partners securing another four seats, the Congress was near about decimated in what was previously their bastion. However there was one silver lining for the Congress in the state of Nagaland despite the defeat. The Congress Candidate KL Chishi lost to the sitting Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) Lok Sabha MP Tokheho Yepthomi by a slender margin of 16344 votes and secured a vote share of 48.11 percent. The Congress does not have even one MLA in the Nagaland Legislative Assembly and has been on the wane ever since Neiphiu Rio came to power in 2003. So how did this happen?
In the 2018 Lok Sabha bye-elections, Tokheho had won by a margin of 1,55,922 votes against the NPF candidate- with NPF having 26 MLAs in the Assembly of 60 members. The bye election then was necessitated due to the resignation of Neiphiu Rio who was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Nagaland with 20 NDPP MLAs and the support of 12 BJP MLAs naming the coalition the Peoples Democratic Alliance (PDA). The NDPP Candidate won with over a lakh margin riding on the wave of the new government. Fast forward to 2019 general Elections and the PDA government had already celebrated one year of being in government with much fanfare. The odds were heavily in the PDA’s favour. Due to the pre-poll arrangements the BJP decided to support the candidate of the NDPP and fielded no candidate. The confidence of the PDA candidate was further boosted by the decision of the 7 NPF MLAs to support the PDA candidate for the Lok Sabha Elections. It therefore begs the question: “how did the winning margin narrow down drastically instead of increasing?’
Sources within the NDPP are spinning several versions of the narrow victory gap. The common refrain has been that the NDPP MLAs had taken it casually in almost all the districts except Mon, Longleng and Tuensang Districts. The over confidence of the MLAs cost them dearly as compared to the feverish support of the 19 NPF MLAs given to the Congress candidate.
Chishi also seems to have benefitted from the anti-CAB campaigns. It translated into votes when it was coupled with the introduction of Uniform Civil code in the manifesto of the BJP. This provoked the already visible opposition by the Church body. For about more than three hours the state witnessed a sizeable lead by Chishi in almost all the districts with huge gains in Dimapur district alone. Even in Kohima District, the home of the Chief Minister, the losses were huge and the PDA barely managed to recover from the massive votes garnered in just one constituency— the Chief Minister’s constituency. It is unprecedented that out of eleven districts in Nagaland the Congress won in six districts. Apparently the entire PDA alliance was jittery throughout the counting as Chishi was leading till the last minute when the counting began for Mon district. Out of the seven NPF Legislators who shifted loyalties to the PDA, four are from Mon District and if not for the votes from their constituencies it became clear that the sitting LS MP would have lost the elections by a huge margin.
The numbers tell a distinct story of how the largest vote bank, Dimapur district, (which is like a mini-Nagaland where all tribes live and therefore is representative of the mood in Nagaland), and the capital city, Kohima, swung in favour of the Congress despite being the two places where the highest share of the state’s budget is spent. With the coming of the PDA government there has been marked improvement in a majority of the roads and infrastructural development has picked up speed noticeably in these two places. However it appears that the electorate of Nagaland seems to have a mismatch between their cry for development and voting preferences. Issues like religious provocations and threat from illegal migrants workers seems to blind their cacophonic aspirations for development.
Four constituencies and their micro report card will give clarity to the voting pattern in Nagaland and the reasons why the Congress candidate gave the sitting LS MP from Nagaland a run for his money. During the Assembly elections in 2018, the sitting MP had contested from Dimapur III Assembly Constituency and lost to the NPF candidate. The results this time around showed that the NPF-supported Congress candidate won in this assembly segment by over 3000 votes. Clearly the sitting MP has still not managed to get a hold over his previous assembly constituency.
The other Constituency where the maximum loss was suffered by the NDPP candidate is his neighbouring constituency, Ghaspani I under Dimapur District. The Legislator from Ghaspani I is Jacob Zhimomi, the sitting BJP Minister for Public Health Engineering and the constituency is by far the largest constituency in Nagaland. Whereas he holds an important portfolio in the Government and is also the first to win from this constituency for two consecutive terms, the performance in this Lok Sabha elections has been the worst ever for the ruling alliance. No other assembly segment where there is a legislator in the ruling government has given away so many votes as he did. The Congress candidate managed to get as many as 36606 votes, a whooping 21,721 votes more than the NDPP. Sources close to the Minister says that it is because of many factors but most crucial one being the fact that his elder brother happens to be the son-in-law of KL Chishi and hence the outcome. This seems to be a simplistic reason given the fact that he has held important portfolios right from the previous term and continues to be an important Minister in the present government as well. There are reports that it is more than anti-incumbency, however inconclusive it maybe. The Modi wave seems to have missed this constituency represented by a BJP Minister.
It appears the constituencies which favoured the Congress inspite of the position held by the incumbent MLAs in the Government are all in one neighbourhood. The third constituency in question is represented by the Deputy Speaker of the Nagaland Legislative Assembly, Zhaleo Rio, who happens to be the younger brother of the Chief Minister, also lost to the Congress by 3706 votes in his segment. That the closest aides of the Chief Minister are losing in their fiefdoms is something the ruling government must be seriously reviewing.
And the last constituency which overwhelmed the ruling dispensation is the Kohima town where the senior leader and Advisor, Rural Development, from NDPP, Dr N Nicky Kire, is the sitting MLA. The Congress won in this assembly segment by 4503 votes. Even the neighbouring constituency, Northern Angami I, went to the Congress by a margin of 5160 votes.
The stunning performance by the Congress in Nagaland with the active support of 19 NPF MLAs gave a fright to the ruling government. Vestiges of the Congress party remain in the mind of the people and the opposition has stormed back with a strong showing this election. The masterstroke by the Chief Minister and political veteran of the Northeast, Neiphiu Rio has saved the ruling coalition for the time being. Where the results take them will depend on the Congress and the NPF leadership which saw Rahul Gandhi landing in Dimapur for a spirited campaign in a state where non-Congress parties have ruled for more than 16 years now.
By Kohima Correspondent