By Shivaji Sarkar
The elections in North East India are lessons for Congress which has learnt as Jairam Ramesh says that local leadership matters even as Congress president begins the effort to unite the opposition with his bid to placate DMK at the birthday bash of its president and Tamilnadu chief minister Stalin.
It is no less a challenge for the BJP, particularly in Tripura, where it has just edged past the crucial majority mark despite massive anti-incumbency until a year ago, thanks to Tipra Motha for splitting opposition votes. It is crucial as the party is building up Tripura as the gateway to the region as also southeast Asia, and the rest of India. Tripura was a tough game. The victory, even with a slender majority, makes a difference. The party will play a larger role in the region with expected increase in the clout and possible fund flow.
Where does the Congress falter? To emphasise on Ramesh, the Congress does not have the ability to retain the local leadership. In Tripura, its own capable leader Pradyot Debbarman the scion of the royal family, was forced to exit and today leads Tipra Motha. In Meghalaya, another leader Mukul Sangma joined Trinamool Congress. There are a host of others who moved out with them. And Congress has not been able to regain its position in Nagaland.
Had the Congress retained Debbarma it possibly would have been an equal partner, not junior, with the CPM-Left. Pradyot also for his finicky role in perhaps trying to be a kingmaker has lost the chance to emerge as the key player. He got 13 seats but could have got more with seat-sharing arrangements with Left-Congress. He has allowed the edge to the BJP and now has sent signals that he could prefer to share power with the BJP as a junior ally and betray his tribal supporters!
There is the flip side too. Is the local leadership gaining somewhere? Else how did Congress have three surprising victories in West Bengal, Tamilnadu and Maharashtra? The most surprising is the victory of Bayron Biswas Sagardighi in West Bengal against the Trinamool with the support of BJP and Left Front. Is the Left fighting the BJP or Trinamool? It also shows that Congress can have strange bedfellows to strike a deal with. Is it an aberration? Or an emerging pattern? It may be an astute strategy as well as it was a prestige battle for state Congress president Adhir Chowdury in his home district of Murshidabad. The election was necessary owing to the demise of state minister Subrata Saha.
It may also be a lesson for West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. Her outburst against “immoral” CPIM-BJP-Congress alliance may be correct but if she does not join an alliance with the Congress or BJP, her Trinamool survival could be at stake. Or as she says, despite the debacle, she would like to go it alone in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections! Perhaps she should rethink her stance.
Maharashtra again is a lesson for the opposition. At Chinchwad, The Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi rebel, disgruntled Shiv Sena leader Rahul Kalate polled 43170 votes to upset the chances of NCP candidate Nana Kate – 96175 votes, making victory of Ashwini Jagtap of BJP with 131464 votes easier. Kalate and Kate together got 1,39,345.
Combined MVA supported Congress candidate Ravindra Dhangekar got 73194 votes to defeat BJP candidate Rasane who got 62,244 votes in a BJP stronghold in Kasba Peth. If the Aghadi keeps its rank and file together it can change the Maharashtra scenario,
The Tamilnadu results also indicate that a united opposition can effect changes. The ruling DMK-backed Congress nominee EVS Elangowan won the Erode East byelection. Tamilnadu chief minister termed it as public endorsement of Dravidian model of governance of his government. But TN is also in the radar of BJP, where through Tamil Sangam it has reached sizable Tamilians.
The pattern is clear. Wherever the opposition is cohesive, as in Meghalaya, it could score well. The NPP has emerged as the single largest party with 26 seats. But now a BJP organiser for Northeast says post-poll, the BJP would wipe out chief minister Conrad Sangma for picking up a fight with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and refusing to allow him to hold a public meeting at the PA Sangma stadium.
In Nagaland, NDPP with 25, BJP 12 and Republican Party 2, Neiphiu Rio sails through. Again it shows that cohesion helps in the current political scenario. It also unfolds another scenario in Jharkhand. The JMM-Congress suffered a setback. The AJSU “All Jharkhand Students Union” party backed by the BJP won the seat held by the Congress.
This is an emerging scenario. The 2024 elections may see many curious moves. The BJP is quietly inching towards it. It is tying up alliances in many states. The opposition is still in an experimental mode. The BJP is trying to upset every possible opposition move whether in Tamilnadu, Jharkhand, Bengal or elsewhere. It is expected to be more ruthless in Tripura and finish off Pradyot Debbarma who can emerge as a potential challenger.
There are many fence sitters like Mamata Banerjee. The situation in Bihar remains uncertain as also in many other states. The Aam Aadmi Party has been vacillating. Post the Manish Sisodia debacle it may review its “ekla chalo” politics. Congress may not only have to seek new allies but also strengthen its inner set up and bring back its proven deserters.
Post the North-East polls many surprises are awaited. Indian politics may change fast in the run-up to 2024 as new coalitions emerge.