Abandoned by Congress, Northeast yet again courts BJP

While the BJP celebrated its victories in the Northeast, Kharge said that the results were as per the trend in the region
Last Updated : 03 March 2023, 11:17 IST
Last Updated : 03 March 2023, 11:17 IST

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The Assembly election results for three states of Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura seemed to be on expected lines for both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress. While the BJP and its allies were confident of retaining all three states, the Congress appeared to have given up on the Northeast. Apart from a rally each by Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge and former party chief Rahul Gandhi in Nagaland and Meghalaya respectively, no other senior leader campaigned for the party in these elections.

The BJP has retained Tripura, it will continue to be a ruling alliance partner in Nagaland, and is in talks with its former ally, the National People's Party (NPP), to form the government in Meghalaya.

The Congress won five seats in Meghalaya, three in Tripura, and failed to open its account in Nagaland. Out of the total 180 seats in three states, the grand old party could win a paltry eight.

While round one of the 2023 assembly elections has clearly been a disappointment for the Congress, the party managed to salvage some honour in the bypolls in Maharashtra, West Bengal, and Tamil Nadu.

The Congress wrested Kasba Peth from the ruling BJP in Maharashtra, and Sagardighi from the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) in West Bengal. Kasba Peth in Pune district has been a BJP stronghold for the past 28 years, and the TMC lost Sagardighi after 13 years.

The victory of Congress candidate Ravindra Hemraj Dhangekar came as a huge boost for the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), also comprising the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray), and a major setback for the ruling BJP-Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena combine.

Similarly, the triumph of Left-backed Congress candidate Bayron BIswas in West Bengal’s Sagardighi constituency has sent alarm bells ringing in the Trinamool Congress camp ahead of the crucial panchayat polls. With this victory, Bayron Biswas became Congress’ lone MLA in the West Bengal assembly.

The Congress also managed to defeat the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) from Erode East in Tamil Nadu. However, the win of its candidate EVKS Elangovan can be largely credited to the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and Chief Minister MK Stalin for whom the bypoll was a battle of prestige.

That apart, the Congress has clearly ceded space to the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Tripura as none of its big leaders such as Kharge, Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra campaigned in the state. The two parties struck an alliance for the first time in the Northeastern state where the BJP ended the 25-year-uninterrupted Left rule in 2018.

While the CPI(M) contested 47 seats, the Congress fought on the remaining 13. The BJP contested 55 seats, while its ally, the Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT), fielded candidates in six constituencies.

In contrast, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP President JP Nadda, and a dozen Union ministers campaigned for the party candidates. Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, the BJP’s go-to-man in the Northeast, canvassed extensively in the three Northeastern states.

On a break after his hectic five-month-long nationwide Bharat Jodo Yatra, Rahul Gandhi travelled to his Lok Sabha constituency Wayanad in Kerala and was also seen skiing in Gulmarg (Kashmir). However, he decided to stay away from Tripura and Nagaland, and addressed just one public meeting in Meghalaya.

Earlier, he skipped campaigning in the Himachal Pradesh assembly elections held in November last year. However, the Congress still managed to oust the BJP and regain power in the hill state.

The party won five seats in Meghalaya this time as compared to 21 in 2018. In Tripura, the Congress bagged three seats (it had not won any seat in 2018) while its alliance partner, the CPI(M) won 11.

The BJP celebrated its stellar victory in the three states with Modi asserting that the results showed that there is full faith in democracy and democratic institutions. Kharge, on the other hand, insisted that the results in the region were as per its trend of going with the Union government.

That may be true to some extent, but it also suggested that the Congress has yet again failed to stem its losing trend that had set in with its humiliating defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

With Northeast done, the action now shifts to Karnataka where assembly elections are due in May. Karnataka is a crucial state for both the ruling BJP and the Congress before the semi-finals in November-December when five states — Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana, Chhattisgarh, and Mizoram — go to the polls. These polls will be held three months before the grand finale, Lok Sabha elections. It is indeed a hectic election season ahead.

(Aurangzeb Naqshbandi is a senior journalist who has been covering the Congress for 15 years, and is currently associated with Pixstory)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

Published 03 March 2023, 09:52 IST

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