FOUR OF the nine states which are headed for Assembly polls in 2023 are in the Northeast, a region dominated by the Congress for the most part after Independence, till the Narendra Modi-led BJP set its sights on it.
In 2016, the BJP formed its first-ever government in Assam. Now, it is part of the ruling coalition in one form or the other in all the Northeast states.
As Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland go to polls in early 2023, followed by Mizoram in November, it is this, then, that will be on test. The four states might collectively send only six MPs to the Lok Sabha but for the BJP, the region with its diversity of beliefs and faiths is crucial to its ideological agenda, as well as its political narrative as a party spanning the length and breadth of the country.
If the party has forged alliances across regional parties to achieve that goal, the Congress has gone the other way, left behind by not just the rapid ascent of the BJP but also regional players as well as parties like the Trinamool Congress. In November last year, the TMC overnight emerged as the principal opposition in Meghalaya after 12 Congress MLAs defected to it.
Of the four states, the keenest contest will be in Tripura, the second Northeast state after Assam where the BJP formed the government on its own strength. It came to power in 2018 in alliance with the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), ending the 25-year run of the CPI(M)-led Left Front. However, the ground has been shifting. As many as eight MLAs of the ruling coalition, including five of the BJP, have quit in the recent past, indicating the way the wind is blowing.
Much of this is fanned by the meteoric rise of IPFT tribal rival TIPRA Motha, led by the state’s popular royal scion Pradyot Manikya Debbarman. The Motha is now set to influence the outcome in the 20 ST-reserved constituencies in the state, if not more. As crowds swell his confidence, Debbarman has turned down feelers of a pre-poll alliance with the BJP, and is now seeking assurances regarding his demands in writing from any future partner.
The Motha could instead swing towards the CPI(M) and Congress which, learning from past experience, are seriously working on an arrangement among themselves, well ahead of the polls. On Tuesday, the two parties issued a joint statement seeking “restoration of democracy, re-establishment of rule of law and conduct of free elections”.
In Meghalaya, the BJP, with two MLAs, is part of the ruling Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) led by the National People’s Party (NPP). However, the Conrad Sangma-led NPP, which is also a part of the NDA, has been making some noises about going solo.
The TMC, with the boost it got from the Congress defection, remains very much in the picture. In December, West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee spent two days in Meghalaya, along with nephew and party national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee.
In Nagaland, the BJP is relatively comfortably placed. It has 12 MLAs in the ruling coalition, led by the 26-MLA NDPP (National Democratic Progressive Party). The two struck a pre-poll alliance in 2018, and have announced they will replicate the same in the coming elections. The BJP will contest 20 seats and the NDPP 40.
In Mizoram, the BJP which has only 1 MLA in the 40-member Assembly, is in the ruling coalition led by the Mizo National Front (MNF). Earlier this year, in an indication of its growing footprint, the BJP won 12 seats in the Mara Autonomous District Council elections, emerging as the single largest party in the body. However, this has caused some friction with the MNF as the BJP took command of the council after getting the support of three members of the MNF.
The BJP has lately been demanding President’s rule in Mizoram, alleging “lawlessness”.
But whether its partners – all of whom are part of the BJP-led NDA’s Northeast variant, NEDA or Northeast Democratic Alliance – stay with it or not, the BJP is here to stay.
Courtesy its government at the Centre, the BJP has several initiatives to tom-tom as bragging rights, with large backward areas of the region dependent on such financial aid. Earlier this month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was himself in the region, and announced projects worth Rs 6,800 crore for Meghalaya and Tripura.