The countdown to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections is expected to begin with the outcome of the Assembly elections in three northeastern States — Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura — on Thursday.
Each of these States has a 60-member House but elections were held for 59 constituencies in Meghalaya following the death of a United Democratic Party (UDP) candidate, and in Nagaland where a BJP candidate was declared elected unopposed.
Election officials in these States said the counting of votes will take place under a three-tier security arrangement primarily involving Central paramilitary forces. Orders under Section 144 of the CrPC have been promulgated in and around the counting centres as a precautionary measure, they said.
The counting will be held at 13 centres across Meghalaya, 59 across Nagaland, and 60 across Tripura, officials in these three States said.
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An average of 87.04% of some 62.93 lakh voters in Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura had sealed the fate of 811 candidates in Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura — small landlocked States but considered the proverbial “morning” that would show how the “day” of the Lok Sabha polls a year hence would be.
Tripura recorded the highest voter turnout of 89.95% followed by Nagaland with 85.9% and Meghalaya with 85.27%. While the voting increased marginally in Nagaland and Tripura, it dipped a bit in Meghalaya compared to the 2018 figure.
The BJP and its regional allies have been upbeat about forming the government in the three States after the exit polls hinted at the members of an anti-Congress forum retaining power. The BJP heads the forum called North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA).
The Congress and the Trinamool Congress (TMC), with the latter investing heavily in Meghalaya to extend its footprint beyond West Bengal, said the exit polls were “off the mark”.
Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who is also the NEDA convenor, also faulted the exit polls for indicating the verdict could be fractured in more than one of the three States.
“There will be no hung Assembly. The NDA (National Democratic Alliance) will form the government in all three States,” he told journalists on Tuesday.
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The BJP had a seat-sharing agreement with its current allies in Nagaland (Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party – NDPP) and Tripura (Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura) but went it alone in Meghalaya despite being a constituent of a six-party alliance headed by the National People’s Party (NPP).
This was not the first time, though. Allies in Meghalaya, where a clear mandate has been elusive after the first election in 1972, have invariably contested against each other and gone for a post-poll alliance.
Reports said Meghalaya Chief Minister and NPP supremo Conrad K. Sangma met his Assam counterpart at a high-end hotel in Guwahati on Tuesday night for a possible reworking of their alliance soon after the results are declared on Wednesday.
Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio said he was confident of a thumping victory for the NDPP-BJP combine.
The BJP fielded 60 candidates in Meghalaya, 55 in Tripura and 20 in Nagaland. The Congress, eyeing a comeback in the region, fielded 60 candidates in Meghalaya, 23 in Nagaland, and 13 in Tripura where it inked a seat-sharing deal with the Left Front (which contested 43 seats).
While the TMC was the new challenger for the BJP and NPP in Meghalaya, the buzz in Tripura was around the Tipra Motha, which was formed by the State’s royal scion Pradyot Bikram Manikya Debbarma. The TMC contested 56 seats in Meghalaya and the Tipra Motha fielded candidates in 42 constituencies.