AAP hopeful the winds of ‘change’ it promises in the Northeast will help change its own destiny

From top to bottom: Dr S Aos LKR, Habung Payeng, and Wonder Lapang
By Pranjal Sarma
​Shillong, Meghalaya: With its prospects fast dwindling in the national political scenario, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), led by Arvind Kejriwal, has set its sights on the Northeast. The assembly elections in Tripura, Meghalaya, and Nagaland are just around the corner, and the party aims to open its account in the region this time around.

AAP, which on Wednesday completed three years in power in Delhi, won the 2015 polls with a thumping majority — it won 67 of 70 legislative seats — but lost the plot somewhere down the line. Electoral success has eluded the party and its attempts to make inroads into other states have only been disappointing. It contested and lost polls in Goa and Punjab, although it did manage to win 20 seats in Punjab. It also contested 29 seats in Gujarat and lost all of them. Undeterred, AAP intends to contest polls in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh this year.

Aware that it’s the odd one out in the regional politics of the northeast, AAP is in no rush to make its presence felt. It is treading cautiously towards strengthening its base in the region. Besides testing the waters in Nagaland and Meghalaya, it is looking to bring on board like-minded individuals to lead its charge in Mizoram, which goes to polls later this year, and where the party is yet to open an office.

Mission Northeast

AAP’s ‘Mission Northeast’ did not get off to a good start. The party suffered a major setback when Dr Salil Saha, who was spearheading its poll campaign in Tripura, met with an untimely death, leaving its poll prospects in the doldrums. The early setback in Tripura, however, didn’t stop the party from foraying into Meghalaya and Nagaland, both of which go to the polls on February 27. Initially, AAP intended to contest all the 60 assembly seats in both the states, however financial constraints forced it to reconsider the decision. Now, it is contesting six seats in Meghalaya and three in Nagaland. The party has fielded young, dynamic leaders to lead its election campaign in these states.

In Nagaland, 35-year-old Dr S Amos LKR, the AAP candidate from Dimapur assembly constituency, is heading the party’s charge, while Akavi N Zhimomi will contest the polls from Ghaspani assembly constituency and P Moigam Phom from Tamlu. AAP is trying to play on the sentiments of the people by reiterating its support for a permanent solution to the decades-old Naga sovereignty issue.

Amos said AAP was one of the first political parties to support the Tribal Hohos and the Nagaland Student Federations call for “solution not election” in Nagaland. “We are always for a permanent solution to the Naga sovereignty issue. We are not like the Naga People’s Front, which changes its decision at the drop of a hat. AAP will always be with the people and back their sentiments on the Naga Framework Agreement,” he said. The Naga Framework Agreement was signed between the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) and the Centre in 2015 to find a solution to the Naga problem. However, the people of Nagaland and other rebel groups are not happy with the secrecy surrounding the peace process. They have criticised the Centre’s decision to negotiate only with the NSCN(IM), claiming that it doesn’t represent all the Naga tribes.

Although AAP is contesting only six assembly seats in Meghalaya, it is hopeful of springing a few surprises under the leadership of state president Wanshwa Nongtdu. The party has fielded former government service holders, intellectuals and activists to contest the election in the state. Leading the charge is 51-year-old Wonder Lapang, who spent 30 years working for the Meghalaya government as an assistant inspector for the agriculture department before becoming an activist. Lapang is expected to take on Congress Election Committee president Celestine Lyngdoh.

“The Congress is a sinking ship at the moment. People have lost faith in the party. It is fighting against the BJP, the NPP, or the NCP in most of the seats. This means they are fighting against each other. This will only benefit us,” said Lapang, who’s contesting from Umsning.

The other contenders are Banrilang Jungai from Jowai, Dedrict Binong from Nongpoh, Peter Aiborlong Dohkrut from Mawlai, Denis Tynsiar from Pynursla, and Milson Sangma from Rajabala.

We’re here to bring change, not grab power: AAP

AAP’s northeast contenders believe that its ideology sets it apart from other regional and national parties who have failed to deliver on their promises in the region. “People are looking for a change. They are sick and tired of the hollow promises made by these political parties every time elections come. AAP is more interested in the overall development and prosperity of the society. We are not like other political parties who are more interested in their own vested interests and in grabbing power,” said Amos.

Lapang, explaining his decision to join AAP, said, “AAP is the right party for me. Its ideology is just apt for the people of Meghalaya. Other parties are fighting against each other. They are embroiled in corruption. They have forgotten to think and work for the people. We are against corruption and this party firmly believes in practising it.”

Habung Payeng, the Northeast coordinator of AAP, echoed their views. “Aam Aadmi Party is a new party. With time we will grow up. We think and work for the future. Our ideology in Aam Aadmi Party is not to grab power, we want to change the existing system,” said Payeng.

Payeng is optimistic about the party’s prospects in the Northeast and believes it will put up a tough fight. “I am confident that this time we will open our account in the northeast. Right now, the BJP is in power at the Centre, so people are running after it. Our workers, volunteers are very dedicated unlike that of the Congress or the BJP, who shift loyalties the moment they get a chance,” he said.

But political observers think otherwise. Sushanta Talukdar, editor, NEZINE says the organisational base of AAP is not strong enough to ensure victory for its candidates in either state. “AAP’s confidence appears to stem from the fact that past voting patterns indicate Independent candidates have done well in both the states. Independents had won as many as 13 seats in the 60-member Meghalaya assembly and eight seats in the 60-member Nagaland assembly in 2013. Besides, JD(U) had also won a seat in Nagaland without having any significant organisational base here,” said Talukdar.


​(Pranjal Sarma is a Guwahati-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.coma pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)  ​