The political culture and electoral issues in Nagaland and Meghalaya, which go to the polls on Tuesday, are as different as those of any other two states in the country. Both are Christian majority states where the church wields much influence. So, it is ironical that the BJP is trying to emerge as an important player in the states after the elections. The Congress was once dominant in both states but is now making a tough bid to retain power in Meghalaya and is almost non-existent in Nagaland. National parties have a local character, and the issues in the contest are also specific to the states. Regional parties and their combinations are strongly in the fray in both states and these alliances change frequently. The alliances that parties form after the elections will actually be more important than those on the electoral scene now.
The ruling Naga People's Front (NPF) is being challenged by a newly formed party, the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP), in Nagaland. Though the NDPP is new, its leader is a veteran, Neiphiu Rio, who was chief minister of the state thrice. He left the NPF two months ago and formed the new party. The BJP is contesting the election in 20 seats, out of the 59, in alliance with the NDPP. The party was part of the NPF, led by chief minister TR Zeliang till recently, and may still support the NPF to form a government if the party is better placed for it after the elections. Issues like the Naga peace accord, the demand for a Greater Nagaland and women's representation in the legislature, on which Zeliang had to resign once, have taken a back seat in the election. It is now a clash of the personalities of candidates in most seats. The clarification that the government that comes to power after Tuesday's election will be replaced by a new one when the Naga accord is finalised and implemented has also reduced the importance of the election.
The Congress has been in power in Meghalaya for 15 years and Chief Minister Mukul Sangma is fighting a strong anti-incumbency sentiment. The main challenger is the National People's Party (NPP) which was formed by former Lok Sabha Speaker PA Sangma and is now led by his son Conrad Sangma. The BJP, which is not strong in the state, is contesting in 47 of the 60 seats and may look at an alliance with NPP and other parties if the Congress loses. The party has toned down its Hindutva issues in both Meghalaya and Nagaland.