Let people, not politicians, be the centre of our election coverage
Editor-in-Chief of EastMojo, Karma Paljor

The election dates for Nagaland, Tripura and Meghalaya are finally out, and I would be lying if I said I am not excited. Three states, three battlegrounds, and three crucial dates. It is no coincidence (or is it?) that all three states have the same number of seats: 60. And despite three different terrains, people, issues and parties involved, it is a wonderful time to witness the excitement among locals and chronicle their hopes and expectations from their current and future leaders. 

And oh, I expect mainland media and their likes to visit, however fleetingly, these states and do stories in the run-up to the elections. Now, I am not going to tell other media houses what issues to cover, and how to cover them. That depends on what a news team is looking for, their budget, their expectations and increasingly, their love and hatred for certain parties.

So, certain publications with a particular penchant for those in power at the Centre will tell you the BJP and its allies will win all three states (and maybe they will). Other media houses, in the name of trying to sound different, will waste a lot of resources telling you the BJP is doomed in each of the three states. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between. No one will be surprised if the BJP, which uprooted the Left in Tripura in 2018, returns to power on March 2.

At the same time, expecting the BJP to form the government in Meghalaya, where it has no strong leader compared to Dr Mukul Sangma and sitting CM Conrad Sangma, would be an overstretch. Not to mention, the BJP currently has 2 of the 60 seats in Meghalaya. But of course, stranger things have happened in electoral politics. As for Nagaland, the BJP-NDPP alliance is strong and looks to remain so, and again, their win will surprise no one. 

And this is all I will talk about in terms of political parties. Because for me, and EastMojo, issues take precedence over political parties and cult personalities. Last year during the Manipur elections, the mainland media was obsessed with the BJP vs Congress battle even though it was pretty clear that the Congress was not even in the same league as the BJP and it was the National People’s Party which was posing a bigger challenge to the Biren Singh government instead of the Congress.

Yet, story after story talked about the same, creating a false dichotomy for the electorate and completely ignoring the fact that in the Northeast, political allegiances often change depending on who is in power at the Centre.

A Congress leader overnight becomes a BJP leader, and vice-versa. Biren Singh, let us not forget, was a long-time Congress leader, like the current Assam CM and the Tripura CM. In this context, continuing the same BJP-Congress tirade is lazy and dishonest. 

Instead, I hope this time, the journalists (both from the region and those outside it) focus on the issues that plague these states, and there are many. Schools, public health, jobs, women’s safety and empowerment, transport, tribal vs non-tribal, corruption: you could spend a year in Nagaland and you will be, for the lack of a better term, spoilt for choice when it comes to doing journalism in the state.

The same goes for Meghalaya and Tripura. Of course, if you read EastMojo, you know what I am talking about. At one point, we had to apologise almost for doing so many of our Decoded episodes on Meghalaya because of how bad things have been in the state. Will a new government change it? Maybe, maybe not.

It saddens me when I say this, but there are few states where political confrontations are as violent, dangerous and frequent as Tripura. So if you do visit the state, please talk about this issue, and much more. Do not make this a Congress vs BJP vs CPM battle. 

And what can I say about Nagaland that has already not been said by locals and several outsiders? From the vexed Nagaland political issue to the demand for Frontier Nagaland, the state is in turmoil, as I have already talked about in my previous column. And yet, I will not be surprised if I once again see a story on Naga headhunters in the run-up to elections. 

The Lok Sabha elections are less than 18 months away and unlike the mainland, the Northeast will hardly play a big role in those. The three states combined give five MPs. The state elections are the most important democratic exercise in this region, and if you are visiting this region to cover elections, then please treat it that way. Let us focus on people, not politicians, and issues, not agendas. 

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