Home >politics >policy >Alliances pay off as NDA grows at Congress’s expense in north-east

New Delhi: More than four months after it formed a government in Arunachal Pradesh, the politics of the north-east is shifting in favour of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), even as the faction-ridden Congress party flounders in a region that was its stronghold for long.

Among the eight states in the north-east, the NDA is now in power in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Sikkim. The Congress, which was ruling five out of seven states in the region when Narendra Modi led the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to a historic victory in the 2014 general election, now rules just three—Manipur, Meghalaya and Mizoram—while the Left Front is in power in Tripura.

It was the BJP’s victory in the Assam assembly election in May, rather than the government formation in Arunachal Pradesh earlier in February, which announced the party’s arrival in the north-east, according to a BJP leader who was part of the campaign in the assembly polls.

“Organizationally also, it will not only boost the morale of the cadre in all seven states, but there is hope that BJP will come to power in other states with the help of some regional alliances. We must not forget that the ruling Sikkim Democratic Front, which is not part of seven sisters, is also in NDA now," said the leader, who did not wish to be identified.

The seven sisters refers to the seven states in the north-east—Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. Sikkim is not considered part of this grouping.

More than the work done by his own party, the BJP leader credited the effort put in by the party’s ideological parent, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and its affiliates as well as regional alliances to the NDA’s success in the north-east.

“The alliances in states which are visible now are showing results. Suddenly, Congress looks isolated across the north-east as no major regional party is with Congress and most of them have joined NDA. The joining of hands with different political parties has isolated the Congress in the region. Assam being the largest of all north-eastern states with 14 Lok Sabha seats dominates the general mood of the politics in the region," the BJP leader said.

In the past six months, the Congress party has lost power in two states in the region—Assam and Arunachal Pradesh—and is facing rebellions in Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura.

Congress leaders admit that the struggle to maintain political relevance in the north-east is a cause of worry, especially because the party has lost many states in other parts of the country since the general election.

“North-east has been our key bastion and until last year, we were in power in five out of the seven states, which is now down to three. Assam has been a big loss for us. The BJP is trying hard to increase its space in the north-east states and it is doing it at our cost. It is their design and conspiracy that many of our leaders have deserted us. Yes, our party leadership is also at fault. Rebellion is a concern and the local and top leaderships are unable to contain it,’’ said a Congress leader working in the region, requesting anonymity.

The party recently appointed its general secretary and former Union minister C.P. Joshi in charge of the north-east, after V. Narayanasamy, who was previously in charge, left to take over as the chief minister of Puducherry. Joshi and other top Congress leaders plan to visit the north-eastern states to assess the political situation and frame a new strategy.

Apart from Arunachal Pradesh, where the Congress government was ousted by party rebels, in Assam, former Congress rebel turned BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma was instrumental in crafting the NDA’s win. In Meghalaya, a section of the party MLAs and leaders is said to be unhappy with chief minister Mukul Sangma, whereas Manipur too saw rebellion from some MLAs until the central leadership intervened. In Tripura, six MLAs have quit the party to join the Trinamool Congress.

Keeping its house in order, encouraging regional leadership and drafting strategies specifically for each state are challenges for the party, Congress leaders said.

“One has to understand—whenever there is a change of government at the centre, it impacts the politics of the north-east because the Union government is closely linked with the administrative functioning of these states. But we certainly cannot wait for a change of government at the centre to come back to power in all the north-east states again; we need to devise ways to bring back our relevance,’’ said the Congress leader quoted earlier.

Bidyut Chakrabarty, a political science professor at Delhi University, added: “Congress used to have very prominent national-level leaders from north-east. But now, the party doesn’t enjoy the same support. There are problems within the organization of infighting and lack of connect with changing political reality at the ground level."

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