Guwahati: The prospects of Congress, which once governed seven of the eight northeastern states, appear to be bleak ahead of the Assembly elections in four northeastern states next year, especially after the recent drubbing it faced in the Rajya Sabha elections in the region.
The elections for the two Rajya Sabha seats in Assam and one each in Tripura and Nagaland were held recently, and the Congress, considering its allies’ strength, was expected to win one seat in Assam, but cross-voting by Congress legislators led to the humiliating defeat of the combined opposition candidate and sitting Upper House member Ripun Bora.
Votes of two Congress MLAs were rejected due to procedural reasons.
Assam Congress President Bhupen Kumar Borah has suspended Karimganj South MLA Siddique Ahmed from the primary membership of the party for “deliberately disobeying” the three-line whip issued by Congress legislative party chief whip Wazed Ali Choudhury with regard to the Rajya Sabha elections.
After the outcome of the Rajya Sabha polls, Congress’ representation in the Upper House of Parliament from the politically important northeast region is now nil.
Assam has seven Rajya Sabha seats while the remaining seven states in the northeast have one seat each, and these 14 Upper House seats are now held by the BJP and their allies.
Out of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in the eight northeastern states, highest number of 14 seats are with the BJP, while only four seats belong to the Congress and one is held by the Maulana Badruddin Ajmal-led All India United Democratic Front, a Muslim-based party in Assam.
The remaining five seats are held by the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance’s constituents Naga People’s Front (NPF) in Manipur, Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) in Nagaland, National People’s Party (NPP) in Meghalaya, Mizo National Front (MNF) in Mizoram, and Sikkim Krantikari Morcha in Sikkim.
Of the 14 Lok Sabha seats held by the BJP, nine are in Assam, two each in Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura and one is in Manipur, while the Congress holds three seats in Assam and one in Meghalaya.
Amid the changing political situation in the northeastern region, especially after the BJP’s return to power in Manipur for a second consecutive term with absolute majority, Assembly elections would be held in Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura in early next year and in Mizoram in November-December in 2023.
Political pundits feel that when the BJP and other local parties are grabbing the political base of the Congress, the party is making no serious efforts to keep its foot intact in one of its erstwhile strongholds.
“Except in Assam, the Congress is not even an opposition party in the remaining seven northeastern states. When their organisational strength weakened gradually, the central and state leadership remained indifferent over the party’s future plan,” said political commentator Apurba Kumar Dey.
Dey told IANS, “Due to their ideological stand and the political mindset of the erstwhile national leaders, including Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, irrespective of caste, creed, religion and community, people of the northeastern region overwhelmingly supported the Congress for many years. But over the years, the party’s strength in all aspects has declined, which got reflected in elections over the years.”
Political analyst Tapas Dey said that though the northeastern region consists of only 8 per cent of the country’s total geographical area and 4 per cent of the country’s population, its strategical importance is very significant as the region is home to 45.58 million people (2011 Census) and shares borders with China, Myanmar, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal.
“Central leaders of the Congress are solely responsible for the party’s almost non-existence in the region. The party appointed junior and inexperienced leaders as state in-charges in the northeast, leading to ineffective state organisations,” he told IANS.
Of the 45.58 million population in the eight northeastern states, around 28 per cent are tribals, who are the overwhelming majority in Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh.
Tapas Dey said that while people belonging to Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities are always supportive and caring towards the Congress, during the last few decades, the party largely distanced itself from all the tribal and non-tribal communities, causing further erosion of the party.
Among the poll-bound states of Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura and Mizoram, the BJP is in power in Tripura while its NDA partners — NPP and MNF – are governing in Meghalaya and Mizoram.
The BJP with 12 MLAs is an ally of Nagaland’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) government in which NPF with 25 MLAs is a major ally, while the NDPP with 21 members is the dominant party of the UDA, which is an all-party alliance governing India’s first Opposition less state.
In Mizoram, the Congress has five legislators and BJP one in the 40-member Assembly, while Congress has no MLA in BJP-ruled Tripura.
After the 12 Congress MLAs in Meghalaya, led by former Chief Minister Mukul Sangma, joined the Trinamool Congress in November last year, the party’s strength has reduced to five in the 60-member Assembly.
These five Congress MLAs led by legislative party leader Ampareen Lyngdoh joined the NPP-led Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) government on February 8, leading to no Congress MLAs in the Meghalaya Assembly.
By Sujit Chakraborty