New Delhi: Once its bastion, the Congress party is staring at electoral rout in the North East. The party is on the verge of losing power in Meghalaya while it drew a blank in both Nagaland and Tripura.
The decline of Rahul Gandhi-led Congress in the North-East is stark as it has now lost four out of five states which it ruled in 2014—Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and, likely, Meghalaya. Currently, it is in power only in Mizoram which goes to polls later this year amid squabbles in the party and nearly a decade- long anti-incumbency.
Results announced on Saturday showed that the Congress was down to 21 seats in chief minister Mukul Sangma-led Meghalaya, compared to 29 in 2013.
It is likely to be overthrown by Conrad Sangma-led National People’s Party (NPP), which raised its tally to 19 from just two in the previous elections, and is likely to ally with regional parties to accomplish its task. The Congress failed to strike pre-poll alliances with any of the regional parties who in turn fashioned their campaigns largely around an anti-Congress narrative.
In Nagaland too, the party’s decline is evident. While it won 8 seats with a 24.89% vote share in 2013, on Saturday it drew a blank with just 2.1% vote share. The run-up to the campaign saw a virtual absence of central leadership, funding crunch and a struggle to field candidates.
“It will not be an exaggeration to say that we were virtually absent from the ground—barring maybe Meghalaya, that too because we were the incumbent there. There is a systemic decline in the North-East and these three states, particularly Tripura, are symptomatic of that. Our local leaders rebelled and went to other parties, unlike the BJP our campaign was not aggressive and the dejection among the cadre is very strong. We gave up too soon," a senior party leader associated with the Tripura campaign said, requesting anonymity.
The party’s most stunning decline was in Tripura. Evident from just a comparison of vote shares, Congress clocked 36.53% in 2013 and is now down to just 1.8%. The trends have exactly reversed as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) increased its vote share from 1.54% in 2013 to 43% now, and from zero seats to 35.
Another leader added that the party would need to start paying attention to state organization, building local leadership and ‘drastically’ reducing its top-heavy approach.
“We have to be present on the ground, hit the streets and build the party as a fresh start. There is no alternative to hard work and that is where the road ahead for the party lies," the leader added.
As of Sunday evening, Gandhi was yet to issue a statement or address the party officially on the outcome of the assembly elections. “We have a clear majority in Meghalaya. We have a setback in Tripura and in Nagaland, we will have to work on that," Ahmed Patel, a senior Congress leader told ANI news agency on Saturday.
“There is a structural problem in the party organization of Congress. In the North-East, they had no focus on what the campaign should be like and they lacked a systematic plan of action. There is no enthusiasm in the regional party cadres because the central leadership has not paid much attention. Congress needs serious introspection of what went wrong and needs to rethink their entire strategy," said R.K. Sathpathy, professor of political science in North East Hill University (NEHU), Shillong.
“In Tripura, the central leadership went soft on the Left hoping to strike a national alliance but that left the state leaders unhappy. In Nagaland, they accepted the probable defeat too early. Meghalaya was their only hope but there too, regional parties are likely to sabotage it. With BJP’s definitive hold on North-East now, Congress has to be far more aggressive," he added