Once the lynchpin of NE politics, Cong today struggles to retain a foothold

At one time the Congress governed almost all the northeastern states, but the grand old party will now battle for survival in the three election bound states — Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland. In Mizoram assembly polls will be held at the end of this year.

The Chief Ministers of five of the northeastern states — Himanta Biswa Sarma (Assam), Manik Saha (Tripura), N. Biren Singh (Manipur), Pema Khandu (Arunachal Pradesh), Neiphiu Rio (Nagaland) — are former Congress leaders and now in the BJP, running the saffron party led governments.

In the last assembly election in 2018, the Congress drew a blank in Nagaland and Tripura but managed 21 seats in Meghalaya and four seats in Mizoram.

Nagaland, Tripura and Meghalaya have 60 member assemblies while the Mizoram assembly has 40 seats.

Engineer-turned-politician Sudip Roy Barman, son of former Tripura Chief Minister and veteran Congress leader Samir Ranjan Barman, quit the BJP early last year following his open rivalry with former Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb and joined the Congress.

In a by-election in June last year, the 57-year-old leader was re-elected to the state assembly for the fifth time on a Congress ticket, marking a representation in the assembly by the party which ruled Tripura for several years since 1956.

Though the Congress was the principal opposition party in Meghalaya after the 2018 assembly polls, most of its legislators joined other parties including the Trinamool Congress and the ruling National People’s Party (NPP).

The Trinamool Congress headed by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee became the main opposition party in Meghalaya after former Chief Minister Mukul Sangma (2010-2018), along with 11 Congress MLAs quit the party and joined the Bengal-based party.

Three of the five Congress MLAs in Meghalaya recently joined the NPP.

According to the Meghalaya assembly record, the Congress now has two MLAs in the 60-member Meghalaya Assembly.

However, the two legislators are also likely to join other parties soon.

The Congress had earlier suspended all the remaining five party MLAs for hobnobbing with the NPP leadership, specially the Chief Minister and NPP national president Conrad K. Sangma.

Though the Congress leaders have announced that it would fight the assembly polls in Nagaland and Meghalaya alone, the party is trying to have seat adjustments with the Left parties led by the CPI-M and the tribal based Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA) headed by former royal scion Pradyot Bikram Manikya Deb Barman.

The Congress’ downfall in the politically important northeast region began after the BJP’s emergence as the Prime Minister Narendra Modi led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) came to power at the Centre in 2014 after defeating the United Progressive Alliance headed by the Congress.

According to political pundits, the grand old party, which has a strong base among people belonging to diverse religions and communities, lacks leaders after many of them embraced the BJP and other parties over a period of time amid the BJP’s juggernaut.

Congress Lok Sabha member from Shillong parliamentary constituency and Meghalaya Congress unit president Vincent H Pala is now the Congress’ lone prominent face in the Christian dominated mountainous state.

“So what if we have a lone MLA in Tripura? Atal Bihari Vajpayee had just two MPs but he went on to become the Prime Minister. The BJP secured less than two per cent votes in the 2013 assembly polls in Tripura but captured power in the 2018 assembly polls,” Tripura state Congress president Birajit Sinha told IANS.

“The BJP came to power in Tripura with lots of promises but it could not implement any of its promises. People will vote us to power as the party has earlier done many things for the people of the state. Former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi amending the Constitution gave the Tribal Autonomous Council to Tripura,” an optimistic Sinha said.

The Congress leaders in Nagaland are equally optimistic.

Nagaland Congress chief K Therie said that the party is the only alternative and people will vote for it.

“Due to the incompetence of the present United Democratic Alliance (UDA) government, not only the Naga political issue remained unresolved, but the state, under the present government, is also facing bifurcation,” the Congress leader said referring to the demand of an influential tribal organisation — Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation (ENPO) — for the creation of a separate “Frontier Nagaland” state in eastern Nagaland.

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

20230115-150604

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