In the 12th edition of Indian Federalism Perspectives by Centre for Multilevel Federalism (CMF) India, Changmong Khiamniungan presented a perceptive piece on the 14th Nagaland Assembly election where he pointed out that unlike national or other state assembly elections; ideology is largely “irrelevant” in Nagaland’s electoral politics.
According to Khiamniungan, electoral outcomes are primarily shaped by intra-constituency factors, where traditional authorities, such as tribe or village councils, play a more consequential role than general issues like education, corruption, and development.
He also highlighted the determinate overlap of tribes and electoral constituencies across the state, except in Dimapur. This condition, he observed, leads to the selection of candidates, electoral dynamics, and election outcomes being influenced by tribe/village councils on one hand and the ability of individual candidates to navigate electoral dynamics on the other.
Khiamniungan emphasizes the asymmetrical role of large villages compared to small villages in determining electoral outcomes. He also found that the practice of ‘proxy voting’ or “bogus voting,” where some entrusted voters vote for the entire village, is “socially and culturally acceptable,” reinforcing the influence of local notables and traditional authorities in deciding election outcomes.
Khiamniungan observed that although it is “essential” for the political candidates to attract parties and their power equation with the center for development funds, the ability of individual candidates to win over local notables and traditional authorities becomes “more critical.”
He observed that in Nagaland, “pragmatism and winnability” take precedence in electoral calculations, explaining why party-switching or defection is seldom punished. He recalled how TR Zeliang justified his defection to NDPP in 2022 stating: “The target is to sit in the ruling bench and not merely as an MLA.”
The Director of Centre for Multilevel Federalism NE Studies Division, Kham Khan Suan Hausing asserts that Khiamniungan’s perspectives challenge macro-level theories that often prioritize ideology, leadership, and electoral plank issues. Director Hausing hopes that Khiamniungan’s feature article prompts a reevaluation of assumptions and expectations regarding the logic and rhythm of democracy and electoral politics, not just in Nagaland but beyond.
According to Director Hausing, Khiamnunggan’s insights gain significance in the backdrop of the 14th Nagaland Assembly election being recognized as a historic event, reshaping the state’s political landscape in unprecedented ways. Director Hausing views this election as a milestone, witnessing groundbreaking achievements such as the historic election of two women to the State’s Assembly for the first time in Naga electoral history. These triumphs extend beyond historic firsts to reshape political dynamics within the state.
The Naga People’s Front (NPF) experienced a substantial decline, plummeting from 22 seats in 2018 to merely two seats in 2023. Conversely, the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) demonstrated significant improvement, securing 25 seats—an increase of 7 seats and a 7% rise in electoral votes compared to the previous Assembly election.
While the multi-party system continues in the state, questions arise about the endurance of the bipolar system. The Congress, unable to secure a seat for the second consecutive term, garnered a meager 3% of electoral votes. The Congress emerged as a distant second in seven constituencies, signaling a shifting electoral scenario after the departure of influential leaders like SC Jamir.
The absence of a clear leader in the Congress has allowed a diverse range of parties to step into the electoral void, many of which have formed regional or national-level coalitional alliances with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Intriguingly, the 14th Nagaland Assembly finds itself without a formal opposition, as various parties extend their support to the NDPP-BJP coalition government. This marks the second consecutive Assembly where all legislative parties unite behind the coalition, effectively rendering the Assembly opposition-less, Director Hausing observed.