Once its stronghold, Congress steadily losing ground in northeast (News Analysis)

Agartala, June 14 (IANS) For a party which once dominated the political landscape in India’s northeast, the Congress is today struggling to survive in the sprawling region, comprising eight states.

The defection of six Congress legislators in Tripura to the Trinamool Congress — which has reduced the party to the third spot in the state assembly — is the latest jolt the country’s oldest party has suffered in the northeast.

Only last month, the Congress lost political control of Assam, the biggest state in the region, to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is confident of expanding its wings in the region — in contrast to the feeble future the Congress stares at.

“Organisational weakness and lack of leadership have seen the Congress in a bad shape in the northeastern states including Tripura,” political analyst and writer Sanjib Deb told IANS.

“After the BJP captured power for the first time in Assam, keeping this victory as a milestone, the party is in a jubilant mood in all the eight northeastern states and aims to step up its activities in the region,” Deb told IANS.

Earlier, in mid-February, the Congress government was toppled in Arunachal Pradesh. Rebel Congress legislator Kalikho Pul ousted Nabam Tuki to became Chief Minister with the support of 31 MLAs, including 18 dissident Congress members, 11 of the BJP and two independents.

Fearing a similar rebellion, Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma reportedly wrote to Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Vice President Rahul Gandhi warning against “black sheep” in the state unit who are apparently in touch with BJP leaders.

And, after Tripura, it was the BJP’s turn to gave a political blow to the Congress in its Manipur bastion.

In the June 2 elections to the politically important Imphal Municipal Corporation the Congress won 15 of the 27 seats and the BJP 10, while ndependents won two seats. The BJP has just one councillor in the outgoing Congress-led corporation.

In northeast India today, Assam is ruled by the BJP, Tripura by the CPI-M dominated Left Front, Sikkim by the Sikkim Democratic Front, Nagaland by the Naga People’s Front-led Democratic Alliance of Nagaland and Arunachal by a rebel Congress and BJP coalition while the Congress rules the remaining three states — Manipur, Meghalaya and Mizoram.

Just six months ago, the Congress was in the saddle in five northeastern states — Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya and Mizoram.

With a population of 45.58 million, the northeast accounts for 25 Lok Sabha seats and 498 assembly seats.

Of the 25 seats, the BJP and its allies got 10 in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress secured eight seats. In the 2009 polls, the Congress and its allies had held 14 seats, while the BJP and its allies managed to win six.

Of the BJP’s eight Lok Sabha members from the northeast, seven are from Assam and one from Arunachal Pradesh.

Muslim leader and industrialist Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front has three Lok Sabha members from Assam, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) has two in Tripura while National People’s Party (NPP) in Meghalaya, Naga People’s Front (NPF) and Sikkim Democratic Front have one seats each.

The NPP, founded by late parliamentarian and former Lok Sabha speaker P.A. Sangma and Nagaland’s NPF are partners of the BJP.

The electoral alliance between the Left Front led by CPI-M and the Congress for the West Bengal assembly polls had badly hit Tripura’s key opposition, the Congress, vertically splitting its legislature group.

According to political analyst Sekhar Datta, the Congress seems to be well on course to “political irrelevance” in its once most-poweful domain — the northeastern region.

“The debacle in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and the series of political initiatives taken by the BJP have led to the Congress yielding ground in major portions of the region,” Datta said.

The Congress was the preferred political choice among the people of the region since independence and through the creation of a host of separate states, he said.

“There was a time when the people of the northeast, especially the vast multitude of tribals, could connect with the Nehrus and Gandhis — Jawaharlal, Indira and Rajiv — but that has been lost. Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi have never really been able to step into the shoes of their ancestors,” Datta, also a renowned writer, concluded.

(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at sujit.c@ians.in)



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