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ON THE DEFENSIVE

The forging of new alliances and the shifting of allegiances prevented anti-BJP forces from uniting against the common enemy in the three states where Assembly elections were held

The North-east elections have brought three more states into the grip of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Many had predicted Tripura would shun its long-drawn history with communism – ending the 25-year rule of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) – and embrace the arms of the 42” inch chest that has been campaigning to bring the nation under the rule of one party. And they did win, spectacularly.

The second win, in Nagaland Assembly elections, for the party by way of its alliance with the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) was somewhat sure. The newly-formed NDPP – which got 16 seats and BJP 12 –  is led by the former Naga People’s Front’s (NPF) Neiphie Rio.

Meghalaya, on the other hand, was one state that held some hope for the Congress party. But the BJP was quicker on the draw and secured alliances. No wonder then, all the losers feel betrayed for not being quicker and more systematic in their gameplan.

The local state units of the Congress party have another man to blame for the failures — CP Joshi, the AICC general secretary in charge of party affairs in the North-east. He was also earlier blamed for the drubbing the party took in Manipur, where the government slipped through its fingers to the BJP.

In his defence for the tragic show in the three states, Joshi told Patriot that as a general secretary he understood his role in the loss but “others have done things too. State leaders should be to blame as well,” adding in the same breath that responsibility cannot lie with an individual.

He blamed the BJP at the Centre for his party’s dismal results. With no pre-poll alliance, the BJP kept the ball in its court to determine who exactly it would ally with to come to power, which it did. The Congress believed, after the results were declared in Manipur, that they were sure to be called by the governor to form the government. “As per the norms of democracy, we thought we’d be called. But the governor, who has been appointed by the Centre (in 2017 by President Ram Nath Kovind) does not believe in it”, Joshi accused. “Unfortunately, the party in power wants to support parliamentary proceedings”, while as the per the judgement of court “the majority should have been tested in the Assembly, in the floor of the house”.

In Meghalaya, the Congress won 21 seats, much higher than the BJP’s two! But not enough to come to power. BJP secured a five-party alliance with Conrad Sangma’s – now the chief minister – National People’s Party which won 19 seats along with the support of six legislators from the United Democratic Party, four from People’s Democratic Front (PDF), two each from the HSPDP, and an Independent lawmaker Samuel Sangma.

The result of Congress rushing in senior leaders Kamal Nath and Ahmed Patel to Shillong was zero. In Nagaland, they tried to forge an alliance with NPF (who won 27 seats). The states’ Congress general secretary GK Zhimomi said that while the NPF was approached to enter into a “secular front with them”, the latter didn’t budge. “On one hand, NPF was shouting for keeping our ethos”, but their refusal of an alliance “has cost the NPF as well,” Zhimomi told Patriot.

He was however forthcoming about the loss, accepting that they were ill prepared: “The officials at the helm were misguided that there won’t be elections so we were victims of our own indifference.”  In January, 11 parties including the NPF, BJP, NDPP and Congress had decided not to contest the elections, until an agreement was forged between the Centre and National Socialist Council of Nagaland. This did not last, and the BJP became the first party to break the pact and file its papers.

Now Zhimomi says, Congress may have reached a new low but despite not having any “popular leaders”, “we will not be irrelevant. Their strategy will now be to bring in “new and young blood with passion, into the forefront”.

The Congress has been steadily losing its weight in Nagaland — if not all of North-east – and other parties’ disregard for them is apparent. Patriot spoke to former chief minister and NPF chief TR Zeliang who vehemently denied ever being approached by the Congress for an alliance. He answered with a straight “No” to a query whether they would ever join, should the prospect arise.

“The BJP severed ties with us and had a pre-poll alliance with the new party. And members started changing their minds. The JDU (Janata Dal United) who entered an agreement with us changed their minds and even the NPP (National People’s Party)”.  But while his party lost, and he his chief ministership, he takes heart in the results itself. “I’m satisfied with the people and their confidence in us”, with the results proving to him “the massive support” people gave to his party. He said his party would be a strong opposition.

But the results in favour of the BJP are not just down to alliances, according to its opposition. They have been accused of deploying huge resources and polarising the people to win elections.

In Tripura, the CPM accused BJP of vote buying. Senior CPM leader Goutam Das told Patriot that voters were lured, “They have so much money in their power, they’ve purchased people and sections of the media. They said give me a missed call and you’ll get a job. They gave away smartphones. They promised to introduce the 7th Pay Commission”.

In Tripura, employees are still being paid on the basis of the 4th Pay Commission. BJPs promise of introducing the 7th, is seen as a factor that cemented its win. Furthermore, it promised jobs, which the state is in dire need of –over 6 lakh people are unemployed in a state with a population of 3.6 million.

But Das believes the BJP would fail. “Where’s the money for the 7th Pay Commission? In Manipur, they’ve promised it but they’re yet to implement it. Now the employees are agitating and they’ve been suspended for agitating. Every state government demanded money but they did not give any money.”

Reports claim that defeat in Tripura for the CPM was because Manik Sarkar was a one-man army. But Das says that the central government used its clout to attack the chief minister and the government. “The RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and the BJP after coming to power at the Centre (in 2014) targeted the CPM. From the very beginning, because North-east is economically dependent on the Centre, they started dismantling projects and taking away money”. This, he says, helped them win support as people in the government need money to function.

Congress’ Joshi echoes these sentiments, saying the BJP was “pumping in money and playing money politics games.” It was also using the polarisation factor “wherever Bengalis are.”  The Bengali factor apparently played a hand in Tripura too, with most urban population being Bengalis. The prospect of jobs, better pay and BJP’s promise of ‘development’ was a no-brainer.

Das alleged that BJP promised a separate state to the tribal people, “In tribal areas they believe that they’ll get a separate state. In the plains areas,they haven’t uttered anything.” The accusation stems from the fact that the BJP, having won a clear majority with 35 of 59 seats, has formed a government with ally Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) and its eight seats. The IPFT demand a separate state for tribals, called ‘Twipraland’, and BJPs support to the party is being read as support for the idea of carving out a new state.

In Tripura, the defeat of CPM has dented the revelry of the Centre with the bringing down of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin’s statue in Tripura. Das said that acts of vandalism have taken place in their party offices and homes of villagers, “with more than 2,000 homes attacked”. He pinned the blame on “Congress hoodlums” who have switched sides to the BJP. “The same people who vandalised the state in 1988-1992 are now donning the saffron colour,” he alleges.