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Meghalaya, Nagaland to vote tomorrow: Will BJP increase its presence in Northeast?

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    Shillong/Kohima, Feb 26: All eyes are on Northeast India to see if the 'resurgent' Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will be able to increase its presence in the region--where Assembly elections got over in Tripura and Assembly polls are scheduled in Meghalaya and Nagaland in a few hours from now. While the Tripura Assembly elections were held on February 18, the Assembly polls in Meghalaya and Nagaland are scheduled on Tuesday (February 27). The elections results of all the three states will be declared on March 3. All the three states have 60-member assemblies.

    Currently, the BJP is in power in three states of the Northeast region--Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. After winning Assembly elections in Assam (in 2016) and in Manipur (in 2017), a confident BJP is looking to increase its foothold in the rest of the region. The high-voltage campaigning of the saffron party in Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya clearly indicates the BJP's increasing popularity in the region--once considered to be the 'fort' of the Congress.

    EVMs

    Like Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland also saw a "high-octane" poll campaign during which barbs flew thick and fast among parties. As the clock ticked 4 pm on Sunday, campaigning ended in both Meghalaya and Nagaland. While the BJP is looking to expand its spread in the region, the Congress is trying to save its government in Meghalaya, where it has been in power for almost 15 years.

    The BJP's resolve could be gauged from the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi spearheaded the campaign. Party chief Amit Shah, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Information and Broadcasting minister Smriti Irani and a host of other leaders also chipped in.

    Union Minister of State for Tourism KJ Alphons, a Christian from Kerala, stayed put in Meghalaya as the BJP in-charge of the state with a predominantly Christian population.
    From the Congress, its president Rahul Gandhi campaigned in Meghalaya. Its media chief Randeep Singh Surjewala and MP Shashi Tharoor extended helping hands.

    With a total of 25 Lok Sabha seats and 14 Rajya Sabha berths, the eight states of the region are crucial for the BJP to add up to its number in the 2019 General elections. At present, the BJP has eight Lok Sabha members from the region, and the Congress has seven. In the Rajya Sabha, out of total 14 seats, the BJP has one and the Congress nine. The rest are with local parties.

    The Congress and the BJP are slugging it out in Meghalaya. The Congress has fielded 59 candidates, while the BJP has put up nominees in 47 constituencies. Though they are fighting separately, in Meghalaya National People's Party (NPP) of Conrad Sangma, son of former Lok Sabha Speaker PA Sangma, is the BJP's partner in the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA).

    In Nagaland, the BJP's hope hinges on its alliance partner Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) of Neiphiu Rio which is contesting 40 seats. The BJP is fighting 20. The Congress, which has given three chief ministers to Nagaland, is contesting only 18 seats, two less than the BJP. Voting will take place for 59 seats each in Meghalaya and Nagaland.

    In Meghalaya, the election has been countermanded in Williamnagar in the wake of the killing of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) candidate Jonathone N Sangma in a blast during campaigning. In Nagaland, NDPP chief Neiphiu Rio has been declared elected unopposed from the Northern Angami-II constituency.

    There are 370 candidates in the fray in Meghalaya whose fate would be decided by EVMs on February 27. A total of 18.4 lakh voters are eligible to exercise their franchise at 3,083 polling stations in the state.

    Chief Electoral Officer FR Kharkongor said 67 all-women polling stations and 61 model polling stations have been set up for the first time in the state. Thirty-two women are in the fray, the maximum so far in electoral politics in the state, he said. A total of 11,91,513 voters, including 5,89,806 women will exercise their franchise on February 27.

    Voting will be held in 2,156 polling stations as 40 polling stations fall under the Northern Angami-II seat, from where Rio has won unopposed. The entire election process in Nagaland started on a difficult note. In view of no-election diktat from the Core Committee of Nagaland Tribal Hohos and Civil Organisations advocating "solution (to the Naga political issue) before the election", political parties initially kept away from the poll.

    Though filing of nominations started on January 31, the first batch of 22 contestants filed their nominations only on the penultimate day on February 6. The last day saw a heavy rush of nominees filing papers. After scrutiny and withdrawal, a total of 227 nominees are left in the field.

    As both Meghalaya and Nagaland saw its share of poll-related "drama", now voters are all set to choose their own candidates/parties in elections which are highly crucial for both the BJP and the Congress. Currently, the BJP is in power in India's 19 states. The Congress, on the other hand, is now in power in only four states and one union territory. India has 29 states and seven union territories. The election results of all the three northeastern states are likely to change the tally of both the parties.

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