Seat-sharing talks between partners of the rag-tag coalition of anti-BJP parties that has named itself Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) will be highly contentious and fractious.
And the first omen of this comes, fittingly perhaps, from the ‘land of the rising sun’ — Arunachal Pradesh.
The Janata Dal (United), whose national president and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is currently sulking at not being given prime importance in the alliance he crafted, has unilaterally named the party’s candidate for Arunachal West Lok Sabha seat.
The JD(U) state unit president, Ruhi Tangung, has been named the party’s candidate for the seat. The move has caught the Congress, which was planning to field its own candidate from Arunachal West, by surprise.
But JD(U) leaders told Swarajya that the Congress had already announced its candidate for the Arunachal East Lok Sabha seat (the state has two Lok Sabha seats) about a month ago.
“The Congress’ move was a unilateral one. But still, in keeping with the spirit of an alliance, we informed the Congress leadership that we want to field our candidate from Arunachal West. We gave the Congress time till 19 December to reply. Since it didn’t, we have gone ahead,” a senior JD(U) functionary told Swarajya.
The Congress has named senior leader and two-time Lok Sabha MP, Ninong Ering, as its candidate from Arunachal East Lok Sabha seat. Ering is currently an MLA from Pasighat West Assembly seat, one of the 27 assembly segments that constitute the Arunachal East Lok Sabha seat.
Congress leaders in Arunachal Pradesh are angry over the JD(U)’s announcement. They say that the JD(U) has little political presence in the state.
“The JD(U) had contested the 2019 assembly elections and won seven seats, but five of its MLAs joined the BJP in 2022. It doesn’t have much presence in this state anymore,” said state Congress working president Bosiram Siram.
Siram also contended that his party had won the two Lok Sabha seats from the state multiple times.
Union minister Kiren Rijiju is the sitting MP from Arunachal West and BJP’s Tapir Gao is the Arunachal East MP.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Rijiju won his seat by a margin of 1.74 lakh votes over the Congress’ Nabam Tuki (a former chief minister of the state). The Congress last won this seat in 2009.
The Arunachal East Lok Sabha seat had been a stronghold of the Congress. The BJP won the seat for the first time in 2004, but lost in 2009 and 2014 before wresting it back from the Congress in 2019.
The JD(U) argues that even though five of its legislators defected to the BJP, it still enjoys support among a large section of the people of the state.
“Our leader (Nitish Kumar) is highly respected by the people of Arunachal Pradesh and in the state elections (to be held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha polls) we will win a good number of seats,” the party’s state unit president Ruhi Tangung (who has been named the party candidate from Arunachal West) told Swarajya.
JD(U) leaders told Swarajya that the decision to name a candidate from the northeastern state was made soon after Nitish Kumar became the party’s national president.
Political analysts say this is meant to send a strong signal to the Congress leadership. “Nitish Kumar wants to be given proper respect in the INDIA bloc because of his stature and also because he was the first and prime mover of the alliance,” said Rajendra Bisht, a professor of political science at Magadh University.
JD(U) privately admitted that Nitish Kumar is very unhappy with the senior Congress leadership. “He (Kumar) should have been made the convenor of the INDIA bloc right at the very beginning. That would have precluded the mischievous move by Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal to suggest Mallikarjun Kharge’s name as the bloc’s prime ministerial candidate,” said a close aide of Nitish Kumar.
The Arunachal move is a manifestation of this anger with the Congress. And it foretells the tough times ahead for the INDIA bloc that will have to start seat-sharing talks soon.
That, say, analysts, is when the deep divisions in the alliance will start coming out in the open. Tellingly, the first sign of this division has risen from the east.
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