Crucial for BJP’s dreams, Congress survival and Opposition unity
By: Dipak Kurmi
Due to its distance from Delhi, the Northeastern region of India receives little coverage in the mainstream media. The composite culture, diversity, border disputes and historical complexities of the Northeastern states do not diminish their political significance, despite their smaller size. This month, Assembly elections are being held in Meghalaya, Tripura and Nagaland. There are a number of regional political parties in the Northeast, such as the TIPRA Motha of Tripura, that support Greater TIPRA Land. The Bharatiya Janata Party, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has made massive investments to develop infrastructure in several Northeastern states, but the Congress party and the Left are also attempting to reestablish their foothold in the state. The Trinamool Congress, led by Bengal’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, has also launched a campaign to conquer Tripura and Meghalaya in order to achieve political expansion. The upcoming elections in the three Northeastern states are significant not only in terms of electoral politics, but also as a stage for several political parties to demonstrate their value.
Ideologically and politically, the election in these Northeastern states is crucial for the BJP. The BJP Government has embraced the concept of the “double engine government” and made massive investments in these states in the years since Prime Minister Modi came to power, beginning with the construction of new railways, roads, bridges, health infrastructure and many other sectors, and increased funding allocations for the Northeastern states. According to reports, Assam’s allocation increased by 50%, followed by other states. Similarly, in a state like Tripura, which has historically been a bastion of the Left, the saffron party won a majority. Previously, it was believed that Tripura, like Bengal, is always pro-Left, but the BJP’s victory in Tripura shattered these notions in Eastern India. This was a massive push for the party’s ideology.
These elections are a battle of prestige for the BJP because prior to 2016 the saffron party had never won in any of the Northeastern states. Today, however, the party rules Assam, Tripura, Manipur, and Arunachal Pradesh and is part of the governing coalition in Nagaland, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Sikkim.
Historically, the Congress party was among the most powerful political parties in the Northeastern states. However, after the rise of the BJP in the states through political alliances, infrastructure initiatives and investments, the Congress was marginalised. After the recent election loss in Himachal, the BJP can no longer afford to lose any states. This is why the BJP has to win these elections.
Despite the undeniable fact that the BJP performed admirably in Tripura and won a historic victory, the party gradually dispersed its political support over time. A few months before the elections, it was compelled to replace its Chief Minister, Biplab Deb, due to growing discontent within the party and anti-incumbency sentiment among the populace. In the meantime, the Left has allied with the Congress in Tripura. Previously, the battle in the state was always between these two political parties; however, now that they have joined forces, they have an opportunity to regain ground. In contrast to Bengal, the Left in Tripura has continued to work and, over time, is using the discontent of the people against the ruling Government. The Left rejuvenated the party by altering its political strategy, bringing in new faces, and engaging in daily grassroots work. On the other hand, the Congress worked diligently to bring back its leaders who had defected to other political parties and to unite its grassroots support.
In the meantime Mamata Banerjee’s TMC has appeared in Tripura, where it may serve as a spoiler. Importantly, the TIPRA Motha, led by Pradyot Kishore Manikya Debbarma, is also gaining ground as it enjoys massive tribal support.
The political situation in Meghalaya is also at an intriguing point. On one side is the National People’s Party, which is led by Chief Minister Conrad Sangma and operates in coalition with the BJP. Twelve out of 17 Congress MLAs joined the TMC overnight, transforming it into the Opposition party. The BJP has never been good at retaining coalition partners, but the Northeast has been an exception. It is crucial to monitor the situation in Meghalaya. However, it will be intriguing to see if the TMC can maintain its status as the Opposition political party. If the TMC can become the second largest party in Meghalaya, then some of Banerjee’s expansion goals will be realised, but if the party loses miserably, then her ambitions for political expansion will suffer a setback.
Nagaland’s coalition of three political parties is also in poor condition. The current Government is a coalition of three political parties: the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP), the BJP and the Naga People’s Front (NPF), but the NPF has decided to fight the BJP and NDPP on its own. It is crucial to determine whether the BJP can form a state Government without the support of the NPF.
Northeastern politics are extraordinarily complicated. In this election, the BJP has a great deal at stake in every state, as any defeat of the party or its alliances will send the wrong message about the party’s broader politics. On the other hand, this is an excellent opportunity for Opposition political parties such as the Left, the Congress and the TMC to demonstrate their worth. Regardless of the outcome of these elections in India’s northeastern states, the message will be profound and will play a crucial role in the 2024 general elections, not in terms of seats but in terms of the political narrative. (The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)