BJP, allies retain power after tough battle in N-E states
The three incumbent governments in Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya returned to power in results that bode well for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prospects in the region in next year’s national elections, ask questions of the Congress’s ability to be the core of an anti-BJP alliance, and point to the limitations of the Trinamool Congress in extending its sway beyond West Bengal
The three incumbent governments in Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya returned to power in results that bode well for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prospects in the region in next year’s national elections, ask questions of the Congress’s ability to be the core of an anti-BJP alliance, and point to the limitations of the Trinamool Congress in extending its sway beyond West Bengal.
First, the results: the BJP won 32 seats in Tripura, crossing the halfway mark on its own; in Nagaland, the BJP and the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party crossed the halfway mark comfortably; and in Meghalaya, Conrad Sangma’s National People’s Party and its allies looked set to form the government, with the NPP keen to revive its relationship with the BJP (as widely expected). In all, the BJP won 46 seats across the three states, compared to the 50 it did in 2018.
“The simple reason behind the manner in which the BJP is winning in the North-East and garnering people’s support, is that the work done by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is reaching the public. That’s the formula. If we are winning elections, it means we are winning people’s confidence,” Union minister Kiren Rijiju told reporters at the party headquarters in Delhi.
At an event in the party’s Central Delhi HQ on Thursday evening, BJP president JP Nadda described Modi as the man who brought peace and development to the region and emphasized the fact that he was the “first PM to visit the North-East 50 times”.
In Nagaland, Neiphiu Rio is set to be the chief minister for the fifth time; in Tripura Manik Saha of the BJP, CM for 10 months, may return after guiding the BJP to a win. And in Meghalaya, Sangma, whose party has made significant gains, has chosen to partner with the BJP again. The parties, members of the incumbent coalition government in the state, contested the elections on their own.
Union Minister Rajeev Chandrashekhar, who was part of the BJP campaign in all three states, said, “People of the north-east especially in Tripura and Nagaland which had incumbent BJP-NDA governments have resoundingly voted for the party.”
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Tripura: The change that helped
In Tripura, the gambit to change the chief minister ahead of the assembly polls paid off just as it worked for the party in Gujarat and Uttarakhand. In July 2022, the party replaced Biplab Deb with Manik Saha as the CM.
Party leaders said the BJP was able to retain power in the state on the basis of the work that was accomplished in terms of economic activities and empowerment of women in particular.
“The BJP’s victory was expected and our responsibility has been increased with the decisive mandate,” said Saha who won his own seat against Congress rival Ashish Kumar Saha.
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The BJP showcased its peace pact with the insurgent group National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT); the crackdown on drug trafficking; and the overall improvement in law and order as accomplishments of its government in the state where electoral contest was perceived as a battle between the right and the communist ideology.
“The government’s policy to empower women by reserving 33% jobs in administrative and judicial positions and 50% of the seats and posts in local bodies also helped BJP,” said a BJP functionary who asked not to be named.
Responding to a question on whether Saha will continue as the CM or minister of state Pratima Bhoumik would be announced as the first female CM of the state, a fourth party leader said the decision will be taken by the party’s parliamentary board.
Meghalaya: The return of the partnership
The NPP improved its tally to 25 from the 20 seats it won in 2018, falling short of majority in the 60-member assembly, but putting itself in the driving seat in terms of government formation. Conrad Sangma, who will return to power despite allegations of anti-incumbency, corruption and nepotism has an array of options including renewing their alliance with the party at the Centre, or the UDP that won 11 seats. The BJP and the NPP fought the elections on their own.
“I would like to thank the people of Meghalaya for their support to NPP. The results are in line with what we had expected but it could have been better. We will sit and talk with our legislators and discuss what to do,” said Conrad Sangma.
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On Thursday evening however, North East Democratic Alliance convenor and Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said that Sangma had called Union home minister Amit Shah and “sought his support and blessings in forming the new government”.
Late on Thursday, the BJP in “A Letter of Support” to Conrad Sangma for the institution of the government, said the BJP and NPP “shall work together and alleviate our relationship in the best interest of the state”.
Nagaland: The absence of an opposition
In Nagaland, where the election was fought virtually without an opposition, the NDPP-BJP combine sailed comfortably past the halfway mark winning 24 and 12 seats respectively in the 60-member assembly. The opposition space vacated by the NPF that only contested 21 seats after a majority of its leadership including former chief minister TR Zeliang merged with the NDPP in May last year, was occupied by smaller parties that are based out of other states such as the NPP that won five seats, the NCP that won seven, and the LJP (Ram Vilas) that won three. The NPF that was the single largest party in 2018 with 26 seats, won just two this time.
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Party leaders said the Union government and the state government’s welfare measures blunted the opposition’s charge that the party was anti-minorities in the state where Christians are about 87% of the electorate. “The presence of a preacher from the Naga Baptist Church at PM Modi’s rally took the sting out of the opposition’s attempts to coalesce a front against the BJP,” said a BJP leader who asked not to be named.
The election results also marked a continued slide for the Congress in the three states: it won no seats in Nagaland, dropped from 21 to five seats in Meghalaya, and improved from zero to three seats in Tripura, although its alliance with the CPM could muster only 14 seats. There was also disappointment for the TMC that had campaigned extensively in Tripura and Meghalaya, drawing a blank in the former and winning five seats in Meghalaya. This despite former chief minister Mukul Sangma breaking away from the Congress with 12 legislators in November 2021 and joining the TMC, which meant for the last 15 months of the Conrad Sangma term, the TMC was the principal opposition.
“We thank the voters of Meghalaya for reposing faith in NPP again. The results are in line with what we had expected but it could have been better,” said Conrad Sangma.
The results indicate that the Congress remains far from recovering its lost ground in the North East. In Meghalaya, the last Congress CM (Mukul Sangma) was in power till March 2018, and his exit in 2021 has crippled the party. In Nagaland, the Congress was voted out in May 2014 and in Tripura the party has been out of power for 30 years, and even an alliance with the CPI(M), which was in power till 2018, couldn’t revive its fortunes.
Since the Narendra Modi government came to power in 2014, the Congress party has lost 41 assembly elections in 9 years. The party’s poor performance in the North East also puts a question mark over its prospects in the region in next year’s national election. The seven states of NE India have a total of 25 Lok Sabha seats.