The Assembly elections in Meghalaya and Tripura will be a test for PM Narendra Modi's 'Act East' policy of development of the northeast. For the Congress, it will be a test of resilience with a win signalling its revival.
The year 2018 promises to be one of reckoning for both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as well as the Congress. With elections due in eight state legislative assemblies this year, the results can be a make or break for both sides. While winning these will be crucial for the BJP – it is already in power in 19 states and would like to expand further – going into the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as well as for its numbers in the Rajya Sabha, for the Congress, these polls could be its last hope for revival after being decimated to rule in just four states.
Among the first of the crucial electoral tests will be the northeastern states of Meghalaya and Tripura. While the Congress has ruled Meghalaya since 2010 under Chief Minister Mukul Sangma, Tripura is among the CPI(M)’s last held bastions after Kerala. The BJP has never been in power in Meghalaya while the Congress has ruled the state for six terms.
In Tripura too, the BJP has managed to make little inroads over the years. The CPM, on the other hand, has traditionally enjoyed popular support over the years. The party has been in power in Tripura for five consecutive terms with Chief Minister Manik Sarkar leading the party for four of them. The Congress has also fared well in the state and ruled for three different terms – 1963-1971, 1972-1977 and 1992-1993.
BJP’s Meghalaya push
Despite its poor track record in terms of electoral numbers, the BJP is looking to leave no stone unturned to ensure that it manages to work its way up. Reports from the state say that the party is pouring in heavy resources to ensure the BJP has a solid campaign going up to polls. Party president Amit Shah has also toured the state and the party has also installed some senior leaders to oversee the campaign.
While the preparations for a saffron assault are hot and heavy in Meghalaya, the BJP may not find the going easy. For starters, it will need to counter its pro-Hindutva image in the state where minorities rule the roost, as far as the electoral breakup is concerned. And then there is the issue of a fragmented opposition which could eventually go on to benefit the Congress.
The National People’s Party led by James Conrad is a constituent of the BJP-led coalition at the Centre, it has not gotten into a pre-poll alliance with the party. It has, however, kept the options for a post-poll alliance open. In a state where the BJP has never won an election, it will be banking on a decent show in the polls. If it manages to win up to 10 seats in Shillong City, Jaintia and Garo hills, an alliance with the NPP post polls could take it beyond the halfway mark in the 60-member assembly. In the 2013 polls, the BJP had won no seats in the state.
The Tripura Challenge
In Tripura, the BJP is pitted against its ideological rival CPM, a heavyweight as far as the BJP’s own showing in the state is concerned. Moreover, the CPI(M) already in alliance with the Congress at the Centre makes the challenge even tougher for the saffron party.
However, the BJP has been making some inroads into the state in the run-up to the elections. It has tied up with the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), a decision that the Left has criticised for the latter’s origins based on demands for the separation of Tripura. Aligning with the IPFT, the CPI(M) says, would only legitimise separatism.
BJP president Shah, on the other hand, has upped the ante against the ruling Left government. Addressing separate rallies in the state over the last week, Shah said the situation in Tripura has gone from bad to worse in the last 25 years of Communist misrule. “The Communists have unleashed poverty and unemployment, whenever and wherever they are in power. The people of the state are desperately looking for a change and want development, which can be delivered only by a BJP government,” Shah, who addressed two well-attended rallies at Ambassa and Udaipur in Tripura on Sunday, said.
CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury, however, claims that the upcoming poll in Tripura will be BJP’s Waterloo. “Tripura will be the BJP’s Waterloo. The unchallenged victory that they claim, will be their Waterloo. We are prepared for that. It is a battle against communal polarization,” Yechury said.
Having survived the Gujarat scare and displacing the Congress government in Himachal Pradesh, the BJP knows the going isn’t easy when it comes to these states. Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s push for development in the northeast through the Centre’s Act East policy, the key to a good BJP performance will lie in identifying and addressing local issues instead of deploying techniques already tried and tested in previous elections.
Both Meghalaya and Tripura are scheduled to go to polls in the first half of this year.