The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is headed for significant gains in Nagaland, according to the trends and early results on counting day on Saturday, irrespective of which of the two major regional parties forms the next government in the state.
The BJP broke its partnership with the Naga People’s Front (NPF) ahead of assembly elections and picked its rival National Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) as an ally, naming veteran leader Neiphiu Rio as the alliance’s chief ministerial candidate.
But the twist was that the NPF continued to be a part of the Northeastern Democratic Alliance – an umbrella group of over half-a-dozen regional parties in the north-east led by the BJP – and an ally of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the Centre.
The trends in Nagaland suggest that the NPF is likely to emerge as the largest party, with the NDPP not far behind. The BJP, which leads in around 10 seats, will therefore hold the key to forming the government in a state that has struggled with insurgency for several decades and is trying to seal a peace pact with Naga insurgents.
Insiders in the BJP say the decision to ally with the NDPP was driven by two considerations. First, the party wanted to increase its footprint in Nagaland, which would not have been possible without contesting more seats in the state, and the NDPP was offering them a better deal.
The BJP had fielded candidates in 11 constituencies in the 2013 assembly election, won one seat, and polled 19,121 votes for a vote share of 1.8%. Results and trends at 11am showed that the BJP, which is contesting it 20 seats in 2018, has increased its vote share to about 17%.
Second, the BJP was not sure about how the NPF’s internal dynamics would play out, with Nagaland chief minister TR Zeliang and party president Shurhozelie Liezietsu engaged in a turf war in the run up to the polls. “Both wanted to ally with BJP and cut the other to size. We did not want to get into this tug-of-war,” said a BJP general secretary, who asked not to be named.
When former chief minister Rio quit the party this January and moved to the NDPP, significantly broadening the political landscape of the state, the BJP chose him as its ally. Now, whichever of the two regional forces emerges victorious, the BJP is set to be a key component of any future government in Kohima.