Cong may lose early advantage

It's the same story in the two Northeast states that went to polls on February 23. The Congress was earlier ahead of other parties in both Meghalaya and Nagaland, but thanks to infighting, it was in complete disarray during the polls.

In Nagaland, for instance, the stage is set for the Congress to take over as Neiphiu Rio's ruling Naga People's Front has been unable to bring about a resolution regarding the decades-old Naga conflict. "The resolution of the Naga issue has been the biggest political mandate for the NPF and Congress. The prevailing belief is that if the Congress comes to power, people may finally get some relief," said an analyst. But with the NPF focusing on a pro-youth, pro-employment campaign, which the Congress has not been able to match, despite indications of a change in government, the NPF may just be handed the elections on a platter.

In Meghalaya, despite an anti-incumbency factor working against Mukul Sangma's Congress-led government, political analysts at the North Eastern Hill University say that lack of options is likely to work in favour of the party. In the Northeast, voters usually support ruling parties at the Centre.

"P A Sangma is a political stalwart, but no longer has the backing of the NCP which is a national party. Though regional parties garner a number of seats, they operate more like scale tippers in hung Assemblies," said a political science professor.

Meghalaya has seen hung Assemblies and coalition governments for over two decades now. Infighting within the Congress, with veteran leader D D Lapang emerging as a contender for the chief minister's chair and a host other Congress leaders vying for the post, has not only split the vote but also given the electorate a viable option in regional parties. Thus, the United Democratic Party may get more seats in Khasi areas. Sangma's National People's Party is likely to gain too. Denied tickets to fight polls, a number of former Congress leaders openly supported the NPP in Garo Hills. Sources in the UDP and NPP said that there were talks of a possible alliance.

Esha is Special Correspondent based in Imphal

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