BJP’s Northeast policy faces test in elections in Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura

Guwahati: The Bharatiya Janata Party’s push to expand its presence in the country’s Northeast will be put to test when Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura go to the polls in February.
The Election Commission on January 18 announced the election dates – February 18 for Tripura and February 27 for Meghalaya and Nagaland. The results will be declared on March 3.
The BJP’s “Northeast policy” took off in 2016 when it ended the Congress party’s 15-year rule in Assam to form a coalition government with two regional parties.
The party then took over Arunachal Pradesh from the Congress through a regional party. Last year, the BJP virtually snatched Manipur from the Congress that got more seats in the assembly election but was late to stitch a coalition.
But the going may not be easy in the Christian-majority Meghalaya and Nagaland, where the BJP has struggled to present itself as an inclusive party, especially in view of several incidents of cow vigilantism and attacks on churches and Christians in other parts of the country.
The party though is counting on regional allies in the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) to gain a foothold. In Meghalaya, much of the BJP’s fortune will hinge on the performance of the National People’s Party (NPP), led by former Lok Sabha speaker Purno A. Sangma’s son Conrad Sangma.
But given the BJP’s Hindutva image, the NPP is keeping its distance as polls near. “We have decided to contest without any pre-poll alliance,” the regional party’s national secretary Nihim D. Shira said.
The development has emboldened the Congress under chief minister Mukul Sangma, battling anti-incumbency and corruption charges.
“We will form the next government,” said Congress general secretary C.P. Joshi, who is also in charge of Meghalaya, one of the last few states where the party is in power.
In Nagaland, the BJP has been an ally of the ruling Naga People’s Front (NPF).
But on Tuesday, the NPF resolved to severe its 20-year-old ties with the BJP. This, an NPF statement said, was because the BJP was fomenting instability in the state “for its own selfish ends in the near future”.
But the NPF, having virtually ruled without any opposition, has been its own enemy. It is divided into three groups. Chief Minister T.R. Zeliang heads one faction, his predecessor Shurhozelie Liezietsu and Nagaland’s lone Lok Sabha member Neiphiu Rio, the other two.
Rio gave the drama a twist by quitting the NPF that he had revived and joined the National Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP), a new regional party, on January 17.
Several NPF legislators are expected to join him, which is likely to make the election a contest between two regional parties.
The Congress hopes to cash in on the “mistrust of the people that NPF has earned because of its misrule.” It is banking on former NPF leader K. Therie for a change of fortune.
The BJP, however, is focusing on Tripura, where the Left Front has been in power since 1993, the last 20 years under Chief Minister Manik Sarkar.
The saffron party received a boost when six Trinamool Congress legislators – they had switched over from the Congress earlier – crossed over. A Congress MLA, too, joined the BJP bandwagon.
“The people of Tripura are fed up with the corruption and misrule of the Left Front and its indifference to local cultural icons,” BJP state unit president Biplab Kumar Deb said.
The ruling Left Front has accused the BJP of trying to whip up communal frenzy to win “by hook or crook”.
In a pre-poll booklet, the CPI (M) said, “The BJP has grabbed the position of the main opposition in many states without winning a single seat in the polls and has also used the CBI and income tax department to threaten and blackmail political parties. But the same old tactics will not work against Chief Minister Manik Sarkar.”

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