North East

Handsome Wins By Congress In North East Is Setback To BJP’s Development Narrative In Region

Jaideep Mazumdar

Jun 05, 2024, 11:16 AM | Updated 01:21 PM IST

India’s North East.
India’s North East.
  • Congress stages comeback in North East, winning 7 out of 24 Lok Sabha seats. BJP's development agenda takes a hit.
  • The Congress, which had been beaten into a corner by an aggressive BJP-led North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) in the region, has staged a handsome comeback of sorts. 

    Of the 24 Lok Sabha seats spread across the seven states of the North East, the Congress has bagged seven while the BJP won 13. The BJP’s allies in Assam — the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the United People’s Party-Liberal (UPPL) — won one seat each. 

    However, in a severe setback to the NEDA, its major constituents in Meghalaya and Nagaland — the National People’s Party (NPP) and the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) respectively — faced defeats in the states they are ruling. 

    Another NEDA constituent — the Naga People’s Front (NPF) — has also lost the seat (Outer Manipur) it had won in 2019 to the Congress. 

    The BJP’s tally in Assam (9) remains the same as in 2019, but its two allies have won a seat each. The Congress tally (three) also remains the same in Assam as in 2019. 

    But the fact that the Congress has been able to win three seats in Assam where the BJP under Himanta Biswa Sarma has established itself as an overwhelmingly dominant political force is in itself commendable. 

    Also, the recent delimitation exercise in Assam had put the Congress at a severe disadvantage. But the Congress trumped odds and won the Jorhat and Nagaon Lok Sabha seats, and also defeated AIUDF strongman Maulana Badruddin Ajmal in the latter’s stronghold — Dhubri — by a huge margin of over 9.6 lakh votes. 

    Dhubri is an overwhelmingly Muslim-majority constituency and was considered to be a bastion of the AIUDF. 

    The BJP’s defeat in the Meitei-dominated Inner Manipur seat to the Congress is an embarrassing one. More so since the BJP is in power in the state and the Congress candidate, Angomcha Bimol Akoijam, is an absolute political greenhorn. He was, till he flew in to state capital Imphal to start his campaign, a professor at JNU. 

    In the tribal-dominated Outer Manipur seat, all the Kukis voted against the NPF candidate simply because the NPF is an ally of the BJP. The Kukis, and many Nagas, voted for the Congress, as did the Meiteis. That, in itself, was a strong message for the BJP and its handling of the ethnic strife in the state. 

    Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma’s sister — Agatha — lost the Tura seat that she won in 2019 to the Congress.

    The Tura seat has been the Sangma family bastion: Agatha’s father and NPP founder Purno Agitok Sangma had been winning the seat since 1977. Agatha won the seat in 2009 as well and Conrad was elected from the seat in a byelection in 2016 necessitated by the death of his father who was the incumbent MP. 

    Losing this seat to the Congress is a big setback to the NPP in the Garo Hills. The NPP candidate, senior NPP minister Mazel Ampareen Lyngdoh, from the Shillong seat is another setback to the NEDA constituent. Lyngdoh came third in the electoral battle — the seat was won by a new party (Voice Of The People Party) while the Congress was the runner-up. 

    BJP’s long-time ally in Nagaland — Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio’s NDPP — faced an embarrassing setback in the state by losing the lone Lok Sabha seat to the Congress. The Congress is considered to be a spent force in the state and last won the Lok Sabha seat a quarter of a century ago. 

    The Congress drew a blank in the 2023 assembly elections in Nagaland and got a mere 3.56 per cent vote share. 

    NEDA constituent Mizo National Front (MNF) lost the lone Lok Sabha seat in Mizoram (which it won in 2019) to the Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM) which is also ruling the state. The ZPM has been quite vocal against the BJP. 

    The only saving grace for the BJP in the region was its wins in Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh by decisive margins. The BJP won all four seats in these two states. 

    The losses suffered by the BJP and its allies in these states, and the gains by the Congress, spell a setback for the saffron party and its development agenda. 

    It is a fact that the BJP-led Union government has ushered in unprecedented development in the North East. From building roads, highways and bridges across the region at break-neck speed to unveiling a slew of welfare schemes and developmental projects, to encouraging entrepreneurs from the region, promoting products of the North East and a whole lot of other initiatives, the Modi government has done a lot for the North East. 

    The Congress, it is widely acknowledged, had neglected the region and done little for the North East. The neglect of the North East by successive Congress regimes had triggered a host of unrests, including insurgencies in most of the states of the region. 

    The Modi government has succeeded in restoring peace and order in the region, and that had laid the ground for development of the region. Apart from pumping in thousands of crores of rupees for development, Prime Minister Modi and his ministers had paid personal attention to the region and undertaken innumerable trips to the North East. Modi’s visits to the North East surpassed the total number of visits of all his predecessors to this region. 

    But in the end people of four states — Meghalaya, Manipur, Nagaland and Mizoram — voted against the BJP and its allies. 

    The BJP would do well to identify the reasons behind this and take corrective measures. 

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