The great Indian election yatra is passing through the North East where two longest-serving chief ministers are guarding their turfs from a new resurgent BJP while in the third a former chief minister has joined hands with the national party to return to power.
Meghalaya chief minister Dr Mukul Sangma, a senior Congress leader, has been in power for 15 years and Manik Sarkar has been ruling Tripura since 1998. In both the states, the BJP is looking to unseat the incumbents to spread its hold over the North East.
After forming governments in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur, the BJP has emerged as a serious contender in Nagaland, Tripura and Meghalaya, the three states going to the polls later this month.
The BJP has stitched up a strategic alliance with the regional players and is hoping that it will be in government in all the three states. Disenchantment with the present governments is a prominent poll plank of the BJP along with the promise of development. Expansion of its hold in the North East is part of the BJP’s strategy to look for new areas of dominance. The region had not considered the BJP a viable option in the past. Fortunes turned for the party after the people of Assam accepted it with open arms. But in each of the three states going to the polls, regional issues have come into play.
In Meghalaya, the BJP has made impressive inroads in the rural areas but the party is perceived with fear, particularly in the Christian-dominated areas. The party’s aggressive stand against the slaughter of animals and Christian missionaries has made the community nervous. At the same time, the people are unhappy with Congress rule because of corruption and lack of development. The BJP may support NPP of Conrad Sangma which is pitching itself as a local player. He is central to the BJP’s ‘Mission 40’ set by party president Amit Shah to gain control of the 60-member state assmebly.
In Nagaland, the BJP has formed an alliance with the National Democratic People’s Party (NDPP) of Neiphiu Rio who broke ranks with the ruling NPF to float a new outfit.
The BJP has high stakes in Nagaland as Prime Minister Narendra Modi had signed a framework agreement of the peace accord in 2015. The Naga parties are seeking an assurance of their demand for early settlement of the Greater Nagaland issue.
In Tripura, the BJP has joined hands with the IPFT and has promised jobs for local residents, implementation of the 7th Pay Commission recommendations, free education for women and free smart phones for youth. The CPI (M) and the Congress attacked the BJP for aligning with IPFT which is linked with the terrorist National Liberation Front of Tripura, a charge denied by IPFT.
Looking forward to 2019
The assembly elections will give an indication of BJP’s acceptance in the region beyond Assam. The outcome of the assembly elections will also have an impact on the BJP’s preparation for the Lok Sabha polls in 2019. The party is expecting electoral reverses in the Hindi heartland where it is already a dominant player and there is no scope for improvement. If it is not able to repeat its 2014 performance in the heartland states, the BJP will have to look for new areas of consolidation. The North East and Sikkim as a block has 25 Lok Sabha seats. The BJP had managed only eight in 2014 despite an impressive performance in Assam where it won seven. Two seats went to the NDA partners. The party leaders believe that every single seat will count in 2019. The BJP has a sufficient buffer in the Lok Sabha but it is preparing for the losses. In that strategy, the North East holds a significant position.
If the BJP is rising, it has been a constant decline for the Congress. The party lost power in Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. It is facing an intense challenge to its government in Meghalaya. The party’s prospects have been marred by defections and organisational collapse. Bringing back the North East to the Congress fold will be one of the biggest challenges for party president Rahul Gandhi. It appears that the party has missed the bus for the February polls. It will have to work for the future elections. Till that time, it is likely to be BJP all the way.