Why Northeast is almost Congress-mukt

After Tripura, Meghalaya, Nagaland Assembly election results, BJP emerges stronger in the region.

 |  6-minute read |   03-03-2018
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The BJP has now stamped its presence across India’s remote northeastern region. The sweep which began with the BJP’s massive election victory in Assam in 2016, when it stormed the Congress bastion, is continuing.

Mizoram is now the only state with a Congress government. The sea of saffron has also knocked out the Left party, which had ruled Tripura for the last  25 years. The people of the state gave the BJP an overwhelming majority. Indications are that the saffron flag will fly not just in Tripura and  Nagaland, but also in Meghalaya. While the Congress is the single largest party in Meghalaya, it does not have enough numbers to form a government. Indications are that the National People’s Party (NPP), headed by former Lok Sabha speaker Purno Sangma’s son Conrad Sangma, is more than likely to form a coalition government with the BJP.

However, it is not yet a done deed and "horse-trading" has begun with a Congress team already in Shillong. Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has also been dispatched to the state capital to negotiate on behalf of the BJP.

Perhaps the sweetest victory for the BJP is  the decisive mandate it received in Tripura. The state, which was held by the CPM and the Left Front for the last 25 years, crumbled under the saffron surge. In the 2013 Assembly elections, the BJP contested in 50 seats and lost its deposit in 49 of those. In 2008, it had contested 49 seats and lost its deposit in all 49. From that to today’s elections where it has won 43 seats while the CPM won just 16. Although Tripura Assembly has 60 seats, elections were held in 59 (voting in a seat was cancelled following the death of a CPM candidate).

tripura-body_030318062859.jpgImage: PTI photo

However, the party’s sweep in Tripura has nothing to do with bad governance or corruption. Chief minister Manik Sarkar did not have a chance chiefly because the CPM is regarded now as a party  which has no future.

Sarkar was an exceptionally honest chief minister and a good administrator to boot. However,  voters know well that the CPM has no clout in Delhi or national politics. Considering most northeastern states run on central funds, unless a party has a voice in Delhi, and can manage to get things done for the state, it cannot survive.

For many long years, after Tripura dumped the Congress, it continued voting for the Left. But now with unemployment at an all-time high, no new industries coming up and a BJP which talks of development, people saw a glimmer of hope. Bringing in a party to power which also rules in Delhi was important.

The BJP offered a new agenda for development. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s "Act East Policy", if properly implemented will turn the fortunes of the state. Also, crucial to the election victory was the hard work put in by the BJP, the RSS and ground-level workers who came from all corners to the state in the past eight months and more.

Amit Shah, Ram Madhav, Himanta Biswa Sarma, Kiren Rijiju, campaigned incessantly and tied up the loose ends. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself campaigned extensively in Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya.

In sharp contrast, the Congress, which was once the ruling party in Tripura, hardly made a splash. The party won no seats. Most of their MLAs had earlier defected to the Trinamool Congress and ahead of the elections had joined the BJP. Congress president Rahul Gandhi gave up without a fight, though he held a few rallies in the state.

The BJP will be a coalition partner in the next government in Nagaland. The BJP holds all the aces in Nagaland, where the fight is between two regional parties. The National People’s Front, and the newly launched Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) are the main rivals. The BJP is allied with the NDPP, but has also kept in touch with the NPF leader. Both parties are willing to ally with the BJP.

While the NDPP has won 29 seats, the NPF too have 29. Others won two in the 60-member Assembly. The people of Nagaland will approve a BJP-led coalition because they want a final resolution to the Naga problem while a framework agreement has already been signed, but kept secret.

In Meghalaya too, the BJP appears to be in a position to form the government. The NPP with 17 seats is not far behind the single largest party Congress (21 seats). The BJP got two seats while 17 seats went to other regional outfits. The NPP was earlier part of the NDA alliance at the Centre. Ahead of the elections in Meghalaya, the NPP worrying about beef and Christian sentiments, tried to distance itself from the BJP. However now, like in all north eastern states, they would rather be with the ruling party at the Centre.

The horse trading is on, but the BJP has a clear advantage of being in government as a coalition partner to the NPP. Independents can be bought from here and there to make up the numbers. The BJP certainly has more money in its kitty to offer.

Finally, the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah election machine has made sure that the Northeast is "Congress-mukt", almost.

Also read: Why Manik Sarkar failed to stop BJP's win in Tripura Assembly elections


Seema Guha Seema Guha @seemaguha1

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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