A close battle for Cong despite an edge

SUSHANTA TALUKDAR | Updated on March 13, 2018


A resurgent BJP and a plethora of local issues make it harder for the Congress, which has traditionally dominated the North-East, says SUSHANTA TALUKDAR

The eight North-Eastern States together have just 25 Lok Sabha seats between them. However, in an era of coalition politics, the election results here matter for both the major players — the Congress and the BJP. With 14 seats, Assam accounts for the majority in this block. Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Tripura having two seats each and Nagaland, Mizoram and Sikkim just the one. The polling in the region is scheduled in four phases starting tomorrow and thereafter on April, 9, 12 and 24.

In 2009, the party position was: Congress - 13, BJP - 4, CPI(M) - 2, and Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), Naga People’s Front (NPF), Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) one each.

The Congress won 13 seats in five States — Assam, Manipur Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Mizoram. The BJP’s four seats, on the other hand, came from Assam. In 2009, a pre-poll alliance with the AGP helped the BJP double its tally. This time, there is no such alliance between the two.

Other than from the AGP-BJP alliance, perfume magnate Maulana Badruddin Ajmal-led AIUDF also made the poll battle tough for the Congress in 2009. Apart from wresting the Dhubri seat from the Congress, the AIDUF eroded the Congress’ hold among Muslim voters in other seats. This helped the BJP wrest two seats — Guwahati and Silchar — from the Congress. The choice of candidates by the AIUDF this time has triggered speculation that it has reached a tacit understanding with the Congress and fielded weak candidates in some seats. Both the Congress and the AIUDF, however, have denied it.

Sangma back in fray

Meghalaya has drawn the attention of poll watchers with former Lok Sabha Speaker Purno Agitok Sangma jumping in the fray in a bid to return to national politics, ending his six-and-half-year hiatus. Sangma is contesting from Tura Lok Sabha constituency as a candidate of National People’s Party (NPP), formed and headed by him.

The veteran is contesting against 27-year-old Congress candidate Daryl William Ch. Momin, grandson of the State’s first Chief Minister, late Captain Williamson A Sangma, in a straight contest. PA Sangma, who has made the carving out of a separate Garoland state from Meghalaya his main poll plank, faces a tough battle this time. The NPP could win only two of the total 24 Assembly seats in Garo Hills in the 2013 Assembly polls. The Congress won 13 seats against seven in the 2008 Assembly polls.

For the Shillong Lok Sabha seat, the regional parties are fighting with each other apart from fighting the sitting Congress candidate and Union Minister Vincent H Pala, who hopes to benefit from the split in Opposition votes.

In Tripura, the only Left-ruled State in the country, the ruling CPI(M) is confident of retaining both the seats despite attempts by the Congress and Trinamool Congress to launch a full-scale assault on the red bastion.

In Manipur, the ruling Congress hopes to defend both the Lok Sabha seats in the absence of formidable opposition and possible split in non-Congress votes. The BJP, backed by the regional party Manipur People’s Party (MPP), is contesting in both the seats. However, neither the BJP nor the MPP could win any seat in the 2012 Manipur Assembly polls.

Arunachal Pradesh is having simultaneous polls to the two Lok Sabha seats and 60-member Assembly, as the ruling Congress recommended dissolution of the Assembly seven months before its term expires in October.

The Congress has won 11 Assembly seats including that of Chief Minister Nabam Tuki unopposed, as advancement of the polls caught the Opposition parties unprepared.

In Mizoram, the Congress is using its landslide victory in the 2013 Assembly polls — it won 34 seats in the 40-member Assembly — to defend the lone Lok Sabha seat. In Nagaland, CM Neiphiu Rio has jumped in the fray for the lone Lok Sabha seat in a bid to enter national politics.

His NPF has re-joined the NDA which, the party expects, will fuel hopes among the voters of Rio becoming a Union minister if the NDA returns to power.

Like political equations, the issues influencing the poll outcome in North-Eastern States also vary from State to State and also within individual States. If it is Naga peace talks between the insurgent National Socialist Council of Nagalim and the Centre in Nagaland, it is the creation of Garoland in Meghalaya.

Star wars

Star campaigners of the Congress and the BJP including Narendra Modi, Rajnath Singh, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi have been trading charges over the development deficits of the region.

Attacks on people from the North-East in Delhi and the death of Arunachal Pradesh student Nido Tania in an alleged racial attack figured prominently during the campaign, with both the Congress and the BJP making it a major poll plank.

While Modi highlighted Gujarat’s achievements, Assam CM Tarun Gogoi sought to puncture holes in the “Gujarat Model” with statistics.

Modi and other BJP leaders have alleged that despite being elected to Parliament for 23 long years from Assam, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the two UPA governments led by him have done little for the State and the rest of the region.

To counter the allegation, Gogoi claimed in a “white paper” that the total central fund flow to Assam during UPA rule was ₹1,90,620 crore, against ₹32,088 crore during NDA rule.

He claimed that the total investment by major public sector units, central board and private sector industries during UPA rule was ₹47,739 crore against ₹4,792 crore during NDA rule.

Gogoi further alleged that Assam lost a whopping investment worth ₹9,156 crore due to dilution of the North East Industrial Policy 1997 by the BJP government when the same incentives were extended to some other states. Modi and other BJP leaders claim it was the NDA which created the DoNER Ministry to give development a big push in the region.

Published on April 06, 2014

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