By Sujit Chakraborty
Guwahati/Agartala, Apr 2 (IANS): The regional parties in the northeastern states are expected to play a significant role in next year's Lok Sabha elections, even as the BJP remains in an advantageous position by virtue of running the government in four out of the eight states in the region.
The BJP is the ruling party in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Tripura, while its allies are governing the remaining four states -- Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) in Nagaland, Mizo National Front (MNF) in Mizoram, National People's Party (NPP) in Meghalaya, and Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) in Sikkim.
Though the saffron party is ruling Tripura, the political situation in the state is a little different with tribal-based Tipra Motha Party (TMP) securing 13 seats in the 60-member state Assembly that went to the polls recently, emerging as the second largest party after the BJP, which got 32 seats, down by four seats than its 2018 tally.
Throwing a challenge to all the national parties -- BJP, CPI(M), Congress and Trinamool Congress -- the TMP, the first tribal-based party in Tripura since 1952, emerged as the principal opposition in the state and is the now the main stakeholder of the vote share of tribals, who constitute one-third of Tripura's four million population.
The TMP, after capturing the politically important Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) in April 2021, has been demanding elevation of the areas of the autonomous body by granting a 'Greater Tipraland State' or a separate state status under Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution.
Of Tripura's two Lok Sabha seats - Tripura East and Tripura West -- the former is reserved for tribals and TMP is likely to play a significant role in the parliamentary constituency in the run-up to next year's elections.
Of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in the eight northeastern states, 14 are with BJP while Congress has four.
The All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) in Assam, NDPP in Nagaland, MNF in Mizoram, NPP in Meghalaya, NPF in Manipur, SKM in Sikkim and an Independent (Naba Kumar Sarania) in Assam have one seat each.
For over six decades, the northeastern states had been a stronghold of the Congress, but over the years the party lost its organisational base leading to the emergence of BJP and several regional parties.
The grand old party's downfall in the politically important northeast region started after the BJP's emergence with the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coming to power at the Centre in 2014 after defeating the Congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
In the past nine years, many prominent leaders in the northeast left the Congress, including Himanta Biswa Sarma, Sushmita Dev and Ripun Bora (Assam), Manik Saha and Ratan Lal Nath (Tripura), N. Biren Singh (Manipur), Pema Khandu (Arunachal Pradesh), Neiphiu Rio (Nagaland), and Mukul Sangma and Ampareen Lyngdoh (Meghalaya), dealing a severe blow to the party.
Except for Assam, where the Congress won 29 seats in the 126-member Assembly in 2021, the party secured third, fourth and fifth positions in the remaining six states in the Assembly polls held after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
In the recenty-held Assembly polls in Meghalaya, Congress secured five seats against 21 in 2018. While it managed to win three seats in Tripura, the grand old party failed to open its account in Nagaland for the second time after 2018. The three states have 60 seats each.
The Congress had drawn a blank in the 2018 Tripura polls.
The Chief Ministers of five northeastern states -- Himanta Biswa Sarma (Assam), Manik Saha (Tripura), N. Biren Singh (Manipur), Pema Khandu (Arunachal Pradesh), and Neiphiu Rio (Nagaland) -- are all former Congress leaders.
The BJP with two MLAs supports the Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) government led by NPP, which is headed by Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma.
In Mizoram, which will go to the polls this year-end, a multi-cornered contest is likely between the ruling MNF and the opposition Congress and other local parties in both the Assembly polls and next year's Lok Sabha elections.
Eying 14 Lok Sabha seats in Assam, the Congress like its previous efforts has initiated the process to form a 'Mahagathbandhan' (grand alliance) with the like-minded parties.
Recently in Guwahati, the Congress held a meeting of 10 opposition parties after excluding Lok Sabha MP Badruddin Ajmal-led All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), Aam Aadmi Party and Trinamool Congress.
Assam Congress President Bhupen Bora, who called the meeting, had said that they would check the division of votes in next year's Lok Sabha polls in Assam as the BJP always gets electoral mileage due to the division of votes among the non-BJP parties.
Senior Congress leader Sudip Roy Barman is optimistic that the party will do better in next year's Lok Sabha polls in the northeast as compared to its peroformance in 2019.
Barman, the son of former Congress Chief Minister of Tripura Samir Ranjan Barman, told IANS that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, other Central ministers and BJP leaders are making tall claims about the development of the northeast region, but most of the big infrastructure projects, including railway projects, in the region were undertaken during the UPA rule.
"If we see the BJP's electoral performance in the northeastern region, the party got 60 seats both in 2016 and 2021 Assembly polls in Assam, equal number of seats in Nagaland (12) and Meghalaya (2) in 2018 and 2023 Assembly elections while the party's seat share reduced by four in Tripura as compared to its 2018 tally," said Barman, who rejuvenated the party in Tripura after joining the Congress from BJP in February last year.
"People now realise that the BJP and the Prime Minister are making big promises to get the electoral mileage, but actually they did nothing to solve the real problems of the northeast, including the gigantic issue of unemployment," he said.