The Northeast elections hold huge significance
Elections in three Northeast states are important for the dreams of the BJP, Congress, and opposition unity.
That we are continually occupied with elections is both an advantage and a flaw of Indian democracy. Three northeastern states will hold elections early next year, following the assembly elections in Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, and municipal polls in Delhi. Out of the three northeastern states, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) secured a thumping victory in Tripura, but the governments in Meghalaya and Nagaland resulted from political manoeuvring.
The Congress emerged as the single largest party in Meghalaya, capturing 21 seats, but failed to establish the government.
Let us begin with Tripura. The assembly elections in February 2018 were significant in more ways than one. After West Bengal, this was the country’s only state ruled by the Left Front for 25 years in a row. Manik Sarkar, an exceptionally honest man, was the chief minister there. But despite his best efforts, he failed. The BJP won 35 seats, surpassing the magic figure of 31 required for a majority. The Left was reduced to 16 seats. However, there was only a 1.37% difference in the vote between them. The Congress, a long-standing Opposition party, was reduced to 1.79% of the vote. Tripura has now joined states where the Congress has been wiped out.
The struggle for Congress’s survival will continue in these elections. Its organisation has weakened in Meghalaya and Nagaland, too. These three states provide five Lok Sabha Members of Parliament (MPs). This may not be a large number, yet the Northeast accounts for 24 Lok Sabha seats. The BJP holds 14 of these at present. These seats could be key if the BJP and the Opposition have a hard fight.
This is why, during his past tenure, Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi prioritised the Northeast. Also, the home ministry under Amit Shah made a concerted attempt to reintegrate separatists into the mainstream. With elections approaching, the BJP is not leaving any stone unturned. In Meghalaya, two Trinamool Congress Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) and one independent MLA joined the saffron party last week.
It’s no surprise that Nitish Kumar is eyeing these states now that he has become the Opposition’s unifying figure. When he left the National Democratic Alliance, it was evident that he would go all out to bring non-BJP parties together. Last week, at a gathering of Mahagathbandhan’s legislature party, Nitish Kumar said: “I do not want to become the PM. My sole goal is to demolish the BJP. Bihar Congress MLAs should report this to their high command.” Nitish Kumar further said he would no longer be the chief minister and that Tejashwi Yadav would take over. Tejashwi will be in charge of the election in 2025. He pleaded with the allies to stick together. Two days before this, Janata Dal (United) or JD(U) general secretary KC Tyagi had claimed that if Nitish ji sat in Delhi for six months, the BJP government would be wiped out. Isn’t it clear from both of these statements that Nitish Kumar wants to try his hand at national politics?
He will most certainly do so.
I want to draw your attention to one more important point here. Dimple Yadav met Sonia Gandhi after taking oath as a Lok Sabha member. Later, Akhilesh Yadav stated that efforts are being made to form an alternative before the general elections in 2024. Heads of major Opposition parties are working on this in many states. Nitish Kumar, Mamata Banerjee, and K Chandrashekar Rao were also mentioned by the Samajwadi Party president. It is apparent that a new alliance is being formed to oppose the BJP’s Juggernaut. Will this association begin with these seven sisters?
There is another possibility. The Aam Aadmi Party has qualified to become a national party after winning five seats in Gujarat and receiving about 13% of the vote. It did less harm to the BJP and more to the Congress in Gujarat. Similarly, had Congress not made inroads into the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s Muslim votes in the Delhi Municipal Corporation elections, the AAP could have won more seats. It has not had a strong presence in the Northeast so far, but it would not be surprising if Arvind Kejriwal is searching for opportunities there as well. Until recently, the AAP has followed the Ekla Chalo Re policy. Apart from Banerjee, this policy has also been followed by Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati and Asaduddin Owaisi of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen. Is it just a coincidence or a design that these parties are making inroads into non-BJP votes?
Will their positions shift with the changing circumstances?
This is why elections in these three states are important for the dreams of the BJP, Congress, and opposition unity. Beginning January 2023, political excitement will still be present. It will continue to six additional significant state elections: Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Telangana, and Mizoram.
The triumph and loss in the seven sisters will surely be felt throughout all of these states.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan
The views expressed are personal