NEW DELHI, Feb 12 : Congress’s resilience in the North East, its long-time stronghold, will be put to serious test in the coming elections to three States, with the party having a realistic chance only in one and it is facing severe odds even there.
The election campaign in Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura underlines the Congress’s retreat in the larger region where it has been the foremost player alongside regional parties. The party is trying hard to hold on to power in Meghalaya while it is a side player in Nagaland and out of the frame in Tripura.
It marks a trend which first started with Congress’s defeat in Assam in 2016. After ruling the State for three consecutive terms under Tarun Gogoi, Congress was upstaged by Narendra Modi powered BJP which came to power with a comfortable majority after having remained a non-starter in local polls for long.
The party also lost in Manipur, albeit to deft ‘alliance making’ by BJP, and is now left with just Mizoram in its kitty. Like in Tripura, it has long been relegated to the margins in Sikkim.
If Congress is to arrest the perception of decline in the region which threatens to worsen the National picture for the party, managers say it has to deliver on two fronts — retain power in Meghalaya and come up with a decent performance in Nagaland where it appears to be the only alternative pole to the overt or hidden alliance of regional parties and the BJP.
The state of affairs of Congress in Nagaland has come to such a pass that insiders admit the party had a problem finding candidates for all Constituencies. Congress appears squeezed out by the regional parties. While ruling NPF won over all the Opposition legislators, including Congress’s, during a power crisis faced by Chief Minister TR Zeliang, former CM Neiphiu Rio has launched Nagaland Democratic People’s Party with a pre-poll alliance with BJP. In the process, Congress appears to be at its wits end to make its presence felt.
Its fate in Tripura has been sealed. A badly stagnated Congress first ceded ground to Trinamool Congress before the BJP’s high voltage entry swatted all others aside. It is now seen as a BJP versus Left contest.
Congress had long hoped that it would be the automatic choice for any voter unrest against the hitherto unshakeable CPM and did not reckon for the emergence of a third party, especially arch rival BJP, in the State. Given the backdrop, it is boiling down to Meghalaya.
Congress accepts it is faced with a serious challenge with voter fragmentation in the State it rules. The party has crafted its campaign around painting the regional parties as promoting “saffron-Hindutva” through the back door. “We have a chance here and we are doing our best,” a party strategist said.