Northeast Assembly Elections:  Important for BJP, Congress, and Opposition Unity

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Northeast Assembly Elections:  Important for BJP, Congress, and Opposition Unity

The four states in the northeast that will see assembly elections in 2023 are Tripura, Meghalaya, Nagaland likely in February. Mizoram will have elections  towards the end of the year. While the BJP  is the ruling party  in Tripura, its  governments in Meghalaya and Nagaland resulted from political manoeuvring.

The north east is important in the national scheme of things politically. Important for the BJP as well as for the Opposition in their anti-BJP scheme of things.


Weak Congress 

In the previous election, the Congress emerged as the single largest party in Meghalaya, capturing 21 seats, but failed to establish the government. In  Tripura, the Congress has been all but wiped out  getting only 1.79% of the vote in the assembly elections in February 2018. The BJP won 35 seats, surpassing the magic figure of 31 required for a majority. The Left was reduced to 16 seats. However, there was only a 1.37% difference in the vote between them indicating that the BJP has a strong following. This is amazing considering that the party had few backers a few years ago. Congress’s  organisation has weakened in Nagaland too.

In contrast, the BJP has strengthened its position in these states.


Important for BJP

The four Northeastern states that will see elections this year, may not have much Lok Sabha heft (with six seats between them), according to The Hindustan Times “but are crucial because of the issues they represent and the timing of polls in an election season that leads up to the 2024 general elections. Expanding its footprint in the Northeast has been one of the BJP’s most significant achievements — the party is either in power or part of the ruling coalition in almost every state in the region — given that it had almost no presence in any state save Assam before 2014 and doesn’t enjoy any ideological or religious affinity with the grassroots……”

But “there are hurdles  in the ruling coalition in Meghalaya, the BJP administration in Tripura facing a resurgent new force in Tipra Motha and niggling persisting worries about the Naga peace pact”

Entire Northeast accounts for 24 Lok Sabha seats: The entire  Northeast accounts for 24 Lok Sabha seats. The BJP holds 14 of these at present. “These seats could be key if the BJP and the Opposition have a hard fight,” according to Shashi Shekhar (editor-in-chief, Hindustan).

This is why, according to Shekar “during his past tenure, Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi prioritised the Northeast. Also, the home ministry under Amit Shah made a concerted attempt to reintegrate separatists into the mainstream. With elections approaching, the BJP is not leaving any stone unturned…..”


Importance of north east to Opposition unity efforts

Conscious of the threat from the BJP, there have been efforts of regional parties to unify with the sole purpose of defeating it. In these efforts, the northeast is important.

Effort by Bihar chief Minister Nitish Kumar: Nitish Kumar, for example,  has become the Opposition’s unifying figure. When he left the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), it was evident that he would go all out to bring non-BJP parties together. Last week, at a gathering of “Mahagathbandhan’s” (grand alliance) legislature party, Nitish Kumar said: “I do not want to become the PM. My sole goal is to demolish the BJP. Bihar Congress MLAs should report this to their high command.”

Efforts by Samajwadi Party (SP): Shashi Shekhar (editor-in-chief, Hindustan)   notes that Dimple Yadav (Member of Parliament since December 2022; wife of Samajwadi Party president and former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Akhilesh Yadav) met Sonia Gandhi after taking oath as a Lok Sabha member. Later, Akhilesh Yadav stated that efforts are being made to form an alternative before the general elections in 2024. Heads of major Opposition parties are working on this in many states. Nitish Kumar, Mamata Banerjee, and K Chandrashekar Rao were also mentioned by the Samajwadi Party president. It is apparent that a new alliance is being formed to oppose the BJP’s juggernaut.

Shekar speculates whether this association will begin with the seven states in the north east, specifically during the elections to the four states in 2023.


Possibility of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) joining in

There is another possibility, writes Shekar.  “The Aam Aadmi Party has qualified to become a national party after winning five seats in Gujarat and receiving about 13% of the vote. It did less harm to the BJP and more to the Congress in Gujarat. Similarly, had Congress not made inroads into the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s Muslim votes in the Delhi Municipal Corporation elections, the AAP could have won more seats. It has not had a strong presence in the Northeast so far, but it would not be surprising if Arvind Kejriwal is searching for opportunities there as well.”

Shekar also notes that either by “just a coincidence or a design” the AAP chief Kejriwal,  TMC chief Banerjee, Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati and Asaduddin Owaisi of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen “are making inroads into non-BJP votes.” It is possible that their positions will shift with the changing circumstances.

This is why elections in the  northeastern states are important for the dreams of the BJP, Congress, and opposition unity.

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