The BJP in alliance with its partners has managed to retain power in Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland. While playing down the N-E results, the Congress claims that its three by-poll wins in Maharashtra, WB and TN are actually the harbinger of things to come, writes Amit Agnihotri
The recently-concluded assembly elections in Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland gave a boost to the BJP and its allies but offered little hope to the Congress in the north-eastern region.
In Tripura, the BJP’s alliance with the Indigenous Progressive Front of Tripura managed to retain power by winning 33 of the 60 assembly seats.
In Meghalaya, the BJP won just 2 seats but supported Chief Minister Conrad Sangma’s National People’s Party to give him a second term in office.
In Nagaland, the BJP and its ally Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party managed to win 37 of the 60 seats allowing Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio to get a fifth term in office. Rio surpassed SC Jamir’s record, who was the chief minister from 1980, 1982-86, 1989-90 and two consecutive terms from 1993-2003.
Other political parties like NCP, NPP, Naga People’s Front, RPI (A), LJP (Ram Vilas Paswan), JD-U and Independent MLAs also extended support to the NDPP-BJP alliance paving the way for an opposition-less government in Nagaland.
An upbeat BJP top brass represented by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, party president JP Nadda and Assam Chief Minister and NEDA convenor Himanta Biswa Sarma, attended the swearing in of both Conrad Sangma and Neiphiu Rio to express solidarity with the regional leaders.
An advantage in Nagaland would now require the Centre and the state government to find a solution towards lasting peace in the north-eastern state, deputy chief minister Yanthungo said.
For the Congress, which once ruled the north-eastern states, the results meant five more years of struggle. The party could win just five seats in Meghalaya, down from 21 seats in 2018. The opposition party could not open its account in Nagaland and got just 3 seats in Tripura. The grand old party played down the results in the north-east and claimed that its three by-poll wins in Maharashtra, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu were encouraging signs.
Congress communications in charge Jairam Ramesh said, “The results in the bye-elections are encouraging. We managed to open our account in West Bengal. We also managed to win in Maharashtra’s Kasba Peth after a gap of over 30 years, which is considered a bastion of the RSS and the BJP. In Tamil Nadu’s Erode, our senior party leader EVKS Elangovan won with a huge margin of 66,233 votes.”
Interestingly, Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge and former party chief Rahul Gandhi had campaigned in Nagaland and Meghalaya but skipped Tripura, leaving the state unit to fend for itself. Ramesh explained the absence of top leadership in Tripura saying they could not have tilted the election one way. Moreover, he said, the polls were more about the strength of the state unit and the candidates put up by the party and less about the central leaders.
The BJP, which had wrested Tripura from the Left parties in 2018, was able to retain power in the state after five years of being in power against the Congress-CPI-M coalition and the entry of Tipra Motha, a party founded by ex-royal Pradyot Kishore Manikya Debbarma, which won 13 seats. Later, Pradyot refuted reports that he was going to have an alliance with the BJP but did note that Union Home Minister Amit Shah had agreed to depute an interlocutor to address the concerns raised by the tribals in the state.
Cong vs TMC
The BJP projected the assembly results as the saffron party’s growing popularity in the north-eastern region and claimed that the Centre’s policies had played a role behind the win.
However, both the Congress and the CPI-M had accused the BJP of indulging in political violence in Tripura over the past year, and had even complained over the issue to the Election Commission. The BJP had also come under pressure due to infighting and had to replace Tripura chief minister Biplab Deb last year with Manik Saha to beat the anti-incumbency. After some initial doubts, Saha was given a second chance to head the state.
Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate countered the BJP’s views by saying that the saffron party’s vote share had actually dropped in Tripura where it got less seats than 2018. She further said that in Meghalaya, the saffron party contested more seats but won less seats this time.
“The reality of these elections is that we won Kasba Peth, a BJP stronghold for 33 years in Maharashtra at a time when the Centre has unleashed agencies after the opposition. In West Bengal, we won the Sagardighi seat, a TMC stronghold after 51 years on the basis of our politics,” said Shrinate.
Congress leader in the Lok Sabha and West Bengal unit chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury targeted Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee over the Sagardighi by-poll win where theLeft-backed Congress candidate Bayron Biswas won by a margin of over 22,000 votes.
“The Sagardighi by poll result has amply proved that a leader like Mamata Banerjee is not invincible. She can be vanquished. The support of the common people should not be taken for granted. The opinion of the common people is not the patent of any political leader, however high and mighty that person may be,” he said.
Chowdhury’s comments invited a sharp reaction from Mamata Banerjee who said that the by-poll loss for TMC took place due to an unholy nexus between the Congress-Left alliance and the BJP.
The West Bengal chief minister declared that she would go it alone in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, throwing any chances of aligning with the Congress out of the window.
“There was an immoral alliance (between the BJP, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Congress). The BJP transferred a portion of their votes to the Congress. If there is an immoral alliance and they want to fight Mamata Banerjee, how will the Congress or Left fight the BJP? The TMC will fight this alliance alone,” Banerjee said.
“It is a lesson for all of us that we shouldn’t listen to the Congress or the Left. We cannot go with those who are with the BJP. There would be an alliance between the TMC and the people (in the 2024 Lok Sabha poll). We will not go with anyone. We will fight alone with the help of people’s support,” she said.
The Congress and the CPI-M had fought the 2021 West Bengal assembly polls together to counter both TMC and BJP but the alliance failed miserably and could not even win a single seat.
Congress Meghalaya unit chief and party MP Vincent Pala targeted the BJP for showing double standards over the issue of corruption.
“For the BJP and its allies, NPP and other parties, it is a marriage of convenience. They had said that the NPP was the most corrupt party in India. They said the same about other parties also. The Prime Minister, the Home Minister and the President of BJP had come to Meghalaya and all of them accused the NPP of being corrupt but after the results when the BJP got only two seats out of 60, they joined the NPP,” said Pala.
“This is what the BJP is…they fooled the people of India, and they fooled the people of Meghalaya. That’s why, I think, what they had said in their manifesto and what they preached and what they said during the campaign…shows they betrayed the people. These were false promises and today BJP is behind the NPP. They had threatened the regional party so that it would come with them. The BJP never had more than 9.5 percent vote share in the state,” he added.