Northeast polls: not about insurgency but governance

Agartala, Feb 14 (IANS) Unlike in the past where the shadow of insurgency loomed large during any elections in the northeast, the run up to the polls in the three northeastern states of Tripura, Meghalaya, and Nagaland have been peaceful - a heartening development considering that the region was always riddled by a myriad violent insurgencies.

While Tripura is voting Thursday, Meghalaya and Nagaland will go to the polls Feb 23. The votes for all three states will be counted on Feb 28.

In past polls, offering the olive branch to militant groups by various political parties and even buying peace by coughing up astronomical amounts to rebel armies secretly were common practices.

But with insurgency on the wane in all the three states, the pressure on both the ruling parties and the opposition has increased - militancy is no longer the pet issue and parties are forced to harp on other poll mantras to woo voters.

In Tripura, 64-year-old chief minister Manik Sarkar is all set to script history by making the red hammer-sickle-star flag flutter for the fifth straight term.

The battle-lines are drawn with the ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) taking on a rather fragile opposition Congress and its ally the Indigenous Nationalist Party in elections to the 60-member house.

So why is Sarkar and his party hoping to romp home for the fifth straight term in this landlocked state bordering Bangladesh?

"We brought an end to the four-decade-old insurgency in Tripura and was able to restore peace and communal harmony," Sarkar told IANS, brimming with confidence.

Party leaders are also harping on the issue of good governance with Tripura often dubbed as the model state in terms of topping the list in the execution of the central government's flagship MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee) programme.

"People want good governance and want to live a life with dignity. The Tripura government over the years have simply worked towards that and hence our confidence level," said Sarkar.

"We believe in action and we have delivered what we meant and spoke in the past."

In Meghalaya the ruling Meghalaya United Alliance headed by Chief Minister Mukul Sangma is facing a spirited challenge from former Lok Sabha Speaker P.A. Sangma's National People's Party.

"It is true that unlike in the past where insurgency played a major role, it is now good governance and stability and development that are the key issues," the chief minister said.

Tribal Garo strongman Purno Agitok Sangma too shares similar views.

"It is good insurgency is not the main poll issue in the northeast. This would give us a chance to harp on other major issues in the elections," the former speaker said.

In Nagaland, the Naga People's Front of Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio is pitted against the Congress headed by T. Yepthomi.

"I must say we have been able to concentrate our poll campaign on real issues like good governance and the amount of development works we had done in the last five years," the Nagaland chief minister told IANS.

The electorate is happy that insurgency is not the dominant issue and militant groups are not intimidating them.

"Real issues like prices of essentials, roads, development are being talked about rather than the fear of militants spoiling polls in the past," said T. Ao, a church leader.

Undoubtedly elections this time in the northeast, devoid of any insurgency threats, will witness a battle of wits as in the past all political parties depended heavily on the blessings of rebel groups in winning the polls.

(Syed Zarir Hussain can be contacted at zarir.h@ians.in)