DATELINE Guwahati /Wasbir Hussain
The Congress has clearly lost its grip in the North-east, once a bastion of the party, with desertions turning out to be the order of the day. It started with the revolt within the party in Aruchal Pradesh that led to the dissidents deserting the Congress to join the existing, but almost defunct, People’s Party of Aruchal, thereby maging to topple the bam Tuki government. Now the government in Itagar is headed by the PPA-BJP combine.
It was Assam’s turn next to bid farewell to the 15-year-long Congress government of Tarun Gogoi, and the voters did it by giving the party a massive drubbing, preferring the BJP instead. The BJP bagged 60 seats (up from just 5 in 2011) on its own while its two regiol allies won 26. The BJP’s convincing win in Assam seems to have sparked off the fresh banner of revolt within the Congress in states like Tripura and Meghalaya perhaps because of the feeling that the party may have more difficult days ahead. Besides, the Assam win has given a huge impetus to the sedate BJP in Manipur where Assembly elections are due next year.
Three developments—in Tripura, Meghalaya and Manipur—must be examined in some detail to reach a conclusion about the state of the Congress in the North-east. The Congress boat started rocking in Tripura right after the Trimool victory in neighbouring West Bengal. Six of the state’s 10 Congress MLAs (Tripura has a 60-member Assembly) have since defected and joined the Trimool, and surprisingly, one joined the CPM. That has brought down the Congress strength in the Left bastion from ten to just three.
Revolt is brewing in the Meghalaya Congress with several Congress leaders, including MLAs, establishing contact with top BJP leaders. This suggests that the Mukul Sangma government in Meghalaya could face a full-blown rebellion in the days ahead. In Manipur, the BJP bagged ten Council seats in the 27-member Imphal Municipal Corporation in the just-concluded civic polls. The Congress has won 12 and five Councils have gone to independents. This is significant because in the last civil polls held in 2011, the BJP had won only one Council. The BJP in Manipur is upbeat because the performance ahead of the 2017 Assembly polls can be taken as an indication of the saffron party’s upsurge in the state where the Congress has been rather strong. For the record, the Guwahati Municipal Corporation, too, has just transformed itself from a Congress-ruled one to BJP after some councillors belonging to the Congress resigned, reducing the party to a minority. This led the Congress Mayor to quit, paving the way for the BJP to take over the GMC.
Now, while the BJP has been working to a plan, having appointed party strategist Himanta Biswa Sharma as the convenor of the newly formed North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), the Congress has shown no sign of a damage-repair strategy as yet. That leaves the field rather open for the BJP to exploit and consolidate its strength in the region that is a relatively new power are for the party. Himanta Biswa’s mandate obviously is to expand and strengthen the BJP’s base in the North-east so that the party could bag most of the 25 Lok Sabha seats from the region during the 2019 tiol elections. In fact, Himanta Biswa has expressed confidence of the BJP coming up with an extra-ordiry performance at the 2019 Lok Sabha polls because by then, the BJP will be stronger in the northeastern states.
What is peculiar when all this is going on is the utter lack of urgency on the party of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi or the AICC to deal with the Congress’ woes in the North-east. In fact, it was this attitude on the part of Rahul Gandhi and the AICC that let the dissidence in the Assam Congress to fester for two years or more, ultimately leading to the exit of a dymic political leader like Himanta Biswa last August. The AICC did precious little to tackle the Congress rebellion in Aruchal and in Tripura. Meghalaya too is the same story. If this is to go on, on could well see a Congress-mukt North-east, if not a Congress-mukt Bharat!