Northeast states – consisting of seven states and 25 Lok Sabha seats – have the reputation of going along with the party that rules the Centre. For that reason, this traditional bastion of Congress now has BJP or its allies in power in all of them. The region is going to be crucial this time – both for the BJP as well as the Grand Old Party. The BJP is looking at neutralising some of its expected heartland losses from here and its president Amit Shah has set a target of winning 22 seats here.
The Congress, on the other hand, needs to retain seats here for its survival. The introduction of the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) has rustled up matters, with the party looking at playing up its role in stalling the Bill in the Parliament. Its president Rahul Gandhi has asked the region’s leaders to take it to people that it was Congress that stalled the Bill, as the regional parties have no presence in the Upper House.
The BJP, however, has been a fast mover, stitching up alliances with smaller parties, to undo the damage of the CAB. But in a region where identity politics reigns supreme, it could be an upward trudge for the BJP.
What was earlier an easy win for the BJP in Assam, which sends 14 seats to the Lok Sabha, has now become a complicated fight. The reason is the introduction of the CAB. The Bill seeks to provide citizenship to refugees of the Hindu faith in India and nullifies much of the work put in by the National Register of Citizens, which was updated in the state.
The BJP’s poll plank in the 2016 Assembly elections in Assam was that outsiders will be identified and sent away. Consequently, the NRC was updated in Assam under a Supreme Court-monitored process, identifying over 40 lakh people. The immediate aftermath was the BJP’s rising popularity in Assam. BJP forming the government in the state led to a domino effect in the region, catapulting BJP to power in Manipur, Tripura and Nagaland, and as a ruling partner in Meghalaya. The CAB led to widespread protests in Assam, and then in other NE states, undoing a lot of work the BJP did in the region in terms of electoral acceptance.
But with the announcement of polls, Asom Gana Parishad, one of the key allies to break ranks over CAB issue, has made a U-turn and is back with the BJP under the NEDA.
With years of anti-incumbency and a depleting political class – its biggest loss was Himanta Biswa Sarma moving to the BJP – the Congress is struggling to reclaim its base in the state. However, a tactical alliance with the All India United Democratic Front could help the Congress immensely, as the state has 34.2% Muslims. The vote share of the BJP front in the 2016 Assembly elections was a combined 41.5%, while Congress had 31% and AIUDF 13%. A Congress-AIUDF alliance could translate to a 44% vote share but has the danger of cutting away into each other’s votes. What could also cut away from the anti-CAB votes is the entry of Conrad Sangma’s NPP, which is fielding candidates in the state for the first time. The BJP is going strong in the Barak Valley after the introduction of the Bill as it has a majority of Hindu Bengalis, though the new-entrant Trinamool Congress could cut away some votes.
The state, which has seen many crossovers in the last few years, has a firm coalition in place. For instance, current CM Pema Khandu of BJP was earlier with Congress as well as the People’s Party of Arunachal (PPA). For the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, under the BJP-led Northeast Democratic Front (NEDA), the BJP along with the Conrad Sangma-led National People’s party will contest the two seats together. They are pitted against Congress, which has seen a marginal revival, thanks to protests over Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) as well as Permanent Residency Certificate (PRC). However, with the elections to state assembly too happening, PM Modi is set to campaign in the state. Of the two seats, Arunachal West and Arunachal East, the former is represented by Union minister Kiren Rijiju.
In Manipur, the introduction of the CAB has proved to have cost dearly. The introduction of the Bill saw a sustained spate of protests against the BJP, which was brought to power in the state following the deft stitching of a coalition. In the Assembly polls, the NEDA has declared a coalition of the BJP, the NPP, the Naga People’s Front (NPF), and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) along with an independent candidate. For the Lok Sabha polls, barring NPF which left the NEDA after the Nagaland Assembly polls, the BJP has an alliance with the NPP. This coalition will take on the Congress, which sent two MPs to the Lok Sabha from the state — Thokchom Meinya from Inner Manipur seat, and, Thangso Baite from Outer Manipur.
Meghalaya’s ruling party, the Conrad Sangma-led NPP, is one of the NEDA’s most prominent constituents, helping the BJP form and be a part of governments in the entire region. NPP’s MLAs helped the BJP come to power in Manipur as well as Nagaland, and be a part of the government in Meghalaya. Interestingly, Conrad was the first prominent leader to slam BJP over CAB, leading to outbursts from both BJP CMs Pema Khandu and Manipur’s Biren Singh. As the regional parties only have a minor presence here, the main fight for Meghalaya’s two seats — Shillong and Tura — will be between Congress and NPP. Congress is likely to choose incumbent MP Vincent Pala for the Shillong seat, while Sangma is fielding his sister, former MP Agatha Sangma from the Tura seat.
The Mizo National Front (MNF), which formed the government in the state in December after ousting the Congress, was a NEDA constituent till before the elections. It fought the elections alone and won a thumping majority. However, the MNF seems to have become further disillusioned with the BJP following the introduction of the CAB. The party has declared that it will contest against the BJP, making it a three-cornered fight with the Congress in the fray. Regional party Zoram People’s Movement has announced an alliance with the Congress. The state sends only one MP to the Centre.
The lone Lok Sabha seat, which was earlier held by current CM Neiphiu Rio, was made vacant after he contested the 2018 elections after floating a new party, the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP). Interestingly, the former state government was run by the TR Zeliang-led Naga People’s Front, a constituent of the NEDA. The NPF alliance was dropped by the BJP, who choose Rio to form a new party, which is mostly made up of defectors from the NPF. Since then, the NPF has joined the Mahagathbandhan and has been part of all the deliberations of Opposition parties. With the Congress decimated fully in the state, the fight is now between the BJP-backed NDPP and the Congress-backed NPF.
The Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), which helped the BJP come to power in the state – which saw a Left rule of more than two decades, has since split ways with the BJP. It has declared that it will contest the Lok Sabha elections alone. The Congress, which saw a huge erosion of leaders to the BJP, is gaining ground. This will be a four-cornered fight, with the BJP and the Left vying for the Bengali votes, and the Congress and the IPFT vying for the tribal votes. The Congress is most likely putting up Tripura’s royal scion Pradyut Debbarman while the IPFT’s Sukla Noatia will contest against him. The two seats in the state are Tripura West and Tripura East.
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