The BJP is forming coalition governments with regional parties in all three Northeastern states that recently had assembly elections – Meghalaya, Tripura, and Nagaland. The BJP-National People’s Party (NPP)-United Democratic Party (UDP) alliance in Meghalaya has held Meghalaya once again, while Nagaland has succeeded in forming an opposition-less government with the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) and BJP at the helm and all other parties extending support. Finally, Tripura voted for a BJP government in alliance with the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT).
One interesting phenomenon about this year’s election is the importance of first-time contestants.
First-time contestants in Indian politics, especially in the Northeast region, can have significant implications for the political landscape. First-time candidates can bring a new and fresh perspective to politics. They are unburdened by the legacies of their predecessors and can bring in new ideas and solutions to long-standing problems. Further, Northeastern India is a diverse region with many different ethnic, linguistic, and cultural groups. First-time contestants from these communities can bring their unique perspectives and represent their communities in mainstream politics. First-time contestants, particularly from new political parties, can challenge established political parties and disrupt the political status quo. This can lead to a more dynamic and competitive political environment.
Table 1 shows the percentage of fielded newcomers in the states of Meghalaya, Tripura, and Nagaland for the 2023 assembly elections. The highest was nominated by the All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) in Meghalaya, the BJP in Nagaland, and the Tipra Motha Party in Tripura. Although the percentage of newcomers is higher in the Voice of People’s Party (VPP) for Meghalaya, it cannot be accounted for since they only contested 18 seats.
Of the 5 seats that the TMC bagged, one newcomer, Rupa M. Marak, emerged victorious. Marak defeated James Pangsang K. Sangma, a three-time National People’s Party (NPP) MLA from Dadenggre and the elder brother of Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma, by a margin of just 7 votes.
Out of the 26 seats that the NPP won, 4 were won by newcomers: Santa Mary Shylla (Sutnga Saipung constituency), Damanbait Lamarke (Umroi), Arbinstone B Marak (Selsella), and Sengchim N. Sangma (Chokpot). Santa Mary Shylla won the seat after defeating ex-minister of state Vincent H. Pala of the Indian National Congress by more than 1,500 votes. She created history by being the first woman to get elected as an MLA from the Jaintia Hills. The UDP saw one newcomer, Matthew Beyondstar Kurbah from Mawphlang, win by a margin of 104 votes, and even Hill State People’s Democratic Party (HSPDP) had one newcomer who won from Mawthadraishan.
One-fourth of the seats won by the BJP was by first-timers: A. Pangjung Jamir won from Tuli with 58.47% of the votes, Sethronkyu from Longkhim Chare, and P. Bashangmongba Chang from Tuensang Sadar-I.
Out of the 25 seats the NDPP won, 7 were newcomers: Hekhani Jkhalu (Dimapur – III), Salhoutuonuo Kruse (Western Angami), K.G. Kenye (Chizami), Imkongmar (Mongoya), Temjenmenba (Jangpetkong), G. Ikuto Zhimomi (Aghunato) and W. Chingang Konyak (Wakching). Even though Salhoutuono Kruse managed to win her seat by only 7 votes, she and Hekani Jakhalu are the first two women elected to the state assembly since its creation in 1963.
In Tripura, however, a fairly large number of first-time contestants won this year. Of the 32 seats that the BJP bagged, 40% were won by newcomers; 12 of the 13 seats that the Tipra Motha Party won were also bagged by new entrants; and around 8 of the 11 CPM winners were newcomers.
Comparisons with last election
Fielding new contestants is not a unique phenomenon in Indian politics. Every election, political parties nominate fresh faces to fight incumbency. In Meghalaya, this year, on average, all major political parties nominated more first-timers than the last election in 2018, with the exception of the National People’s Party (NPP), as can be seen in Figure 1. This is because TMC suddenly became an important party in the state with the defection of prominent Congress leaders like Mukul Sangma and Charles Pyngrope, which led to other Congress legislators joining the TMC. In a bid to trump the incumbency sentiment in the state and dampen TMC’s chances, other parties also focused on nominating new politicians. Since the majority of INC’s established leaders had defected, they did not have much choice other than fielding first-timers.
In Tripura, the ruling party (BJP) nominated fewer fresh faces than the CPI(M) or INC. Ground reports suggest that CPI(M) and INC opted for newcomers because they wanted to promote change and also because they did not have enough experienced leaders willing to fight on their ticket. The only prominent leader who defected to the Congress from the BJP right before the elections was Shri Sudip Roy Barman, who retained his seat from Agartala on a Congress ticket. As can be seen in figure 2, Tipra Motha Party fielded the most newcomers. This can be attributed to the fact that this party is a fairly new one, contesting its first assembly elections, and its main goal was to represent the indigenous people of Tripura. As a result, their strength was in nominating fresh faces to represent the tribal community.
Now, coming to Nagaland, the trend reverses, with fewer first-timers nominated by the major political parties (NDPP, BJP, and Naga People’s Front), as can be seen in Figure 3. This is because, unlike Meghalaya and Tripura, the political scenario in Nagaland was very different. The BJP was more confident about forming a coalition government like last time, and they did not have to take any measures to fight incumbency in the state. Moreover, there were no new entrants in Nagaland politics this year. As a result, the contesting parties could retain their familiar faces and still secure a comfortable win.
Overall, first-timers are nominated by parties if they think it will help them win more seats, depending on the political sentiment in a state. Even if this is done for political gain, it cannot be denied that the emergence of first-time contestants in Indian politics, especially in the Northeast, reflects the evolving political landscape of the country and provides an opportunity to democratise the political process and empower newer voices.
Poulomi Ghosh is a research fellow at the Trivedi Centre for Political Data, and Shoaib Mirza is an assistant manager at the Trivedi Centre for Political Data. Views are personal.