Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura polls: Congress facing existential battles

Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura polls: Congress facing existential battles

The sagging fortune of the Congress in the North East, where the party was once a dominating political force, is poised for a further slide. In three states — Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura — that will go to the polls early next year, the party has been relegated to an inconsequential entity due to multiple factors: backing wrong leaders, unable to check desertions, no support from the All India Congress Committee (AICC) to galvanise workers by undertaking political programmes against the ruling dispensations, among others.

The desertions

Meghalaya, where the Congress had emerged as the single largest party in the 2018 state elections, bagging 21 of the 60 Assembly seats, exemplifies the problem plaguing the party in the region. Due to desertions, by-election defeat and mismanagement, the party is technically left with no legislator in the state now.

The biggest blow was the departure of 12 of its MLAs, led by former chief minister Mukul Sangma, last year to join the Trinamool Congress (TMC). The five MLAs who did not join Sangma’s entourage were suspended after they had, in a surprise move, extended support to the National People’s Party-led coalition of which the BJP is a constituent. The quintet — comprising Ampareen Lyngdoh, Mayralborn Syiem, Mohendro Rapsang, Kimfa Marbaniang and PT Sawkmie — has now decided to leave the party ahead of the February-March elections, decimating it further.

“We have no choice but to take the heart-rending decision because the party has compromised the democratic process of candidate selection. The entire decision-making process has been left to just one state leader,” stooaid Ampareen Lyngdoh, one of the five suspended MLAs.

The veteran Congress leader who is mulling to join a regional party told The Federal that “member in the party wanted to be a boss and in the scramble, the loyal party functionaries became collateral damage.”

Also read: Division of state: BJP’s old promise comes to haunt Nagaland

Sources said she would join the NPP on December 19 at a “grand ceremony” in the state capital Shillong. Due to the “jumping of ship” by all of its MLAs, the party insiders say, the Congress is now finding it difficult to put up “winnable candidates” in most seats.

In public, however, a few remaining prominent Congress leaders are trying to put on a brave front in the face of adversity.“We are the oldest political party in the country and will always remain strong. Young and new leaders are now taking up the cudgels of the party. They will definitely have an impact (in the upcoming elections),” asserted senior Congress leader Deborah Marak.

In Meghalaya, Congress stares at worst-ever crisis  

However, observers of Meghalaya politics are not convinced about the party’s revival. “There is no denying of the fact that the Congress is facing its worst-ever crisis in the state. It is for the first time the party will go to the polls in the state without having a single MLA,” pointed out Dipankar Roy, the editor-in-chief of a Shillong-based daily The Meghalayan.

The situation for the party is gloomier in the other two poll-bound states, where it has long been decimated in the assembly. In Nagaland, the state it gave three chief ministers — Hokishe Sema, K L Chishi and S C Jamir — the Congress could not even put up a candidate in more than two-third seats in 2018.

Contesting 18 of the 60 seats, it had failed to win any. It polled a paltry 20,752 votes, which was lower than the total votes secured by 11 independent candidates in the fray. The grand-old party might not be able to contest most seats this time, too.

“During my discussions with the party’s central leadership, I had suggested that there is no need to contest all the 60 seats. We should only put up candidates in select winnable seats making a realistic assessment of our strength. If we can get 10-15 seats then we can have a post-poll alliance with other secular regional parties,” K L Chishi told The Federal, virtually ruling out any possibility of Congress taking a shot at the power.

Setbacks in Tripura

Tripura is the only state where the party is showing some semblance of revival after two BJP MLAs — Sudip Roy Barman and Ashish Kumar Saha — joined the party early this year. Barman later won a by-election to become the lone Congress representative in the 60-member house.

Even in Tripura, where the party’s vote share had dropped to 1.79 per cent last time, the Congress is hardly seen as a challenger to the ruling BJP. The party’s recent revival bid has been impacted by its share of setbacks. Last week, six senior Congress leaders, including former state president Pijush Kanti Biswas, joined the TMC. Biswas was later made the TMC state president.

The Congress in the state is hoping that an alliance with its former arch-rival the CPI (M)-led Left Front will provide the much-needed political oxygen to it. The party’s talks for an alliance with the Left are progressing well, the party sources said.

Barman and other Congress leaders were seen sharing the dais with CPM secretary Jitendra Chaudhury, CPI (M-L) national general secretary Dipankar Chatterjee, and other leaders of the Forward Bloc and Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) at a programme to mark 75 years of Independence in Agartala last week.

Also read: Meghalaya BJP seeks to implement ‘use and-throw’ regional allies model

No party, either in Nagaland and Meghalaya, is showing any interest to join hands with the dwindling Congress to jointly fight the seats the latter will not contest. “By opposing our decision to back the NPP-led Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) government last year, the Congress has essentially blocked any prospect of its allying with any regional party,” Lyngdoh said.

The MDA is a coalition of the four regional parties and the BJP. The constituents will be fighting the ensuing elections separately. The contest will be primarily among them.

Gloomy scenario in Nagaland

In Nagaland, the battle will be essentially between the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP)-BJP coalition and the Naga People’s Front. Incidentally, all these parties are part of the present opposition-less government in the state.

“Ineffective opposition undermines the basic ethos of democracy. The party needs to empower the leaders who can mould public opinion, explaining to them the real meaning of democracy,” Chishi added.

The Congress high command so far is not seen to be showing any urgency to take any corrective measures. “Unfortunately, we hardly see any presence of the AICC in the state,” said Lyngdoh. A Congress worker from Garo Hills region of the state rued: “Look at TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee. She has reached the state today (Monday) to encourage her party leaders and chalk out strategies for the elections. We don’t see similar efforts from our top leaders.”

Even Chishi admitted that there needed to be a very strong push from the high command to regain the Congress’s lost glory in the region. Will that push come? That is the million dollar question the ordinary Congressman in the region is skeptically asking.

The lack of resources and non-visible central leadership marked the Congress’s campaign in the three states last time. Nagaland PCC chief K Therie had even gone to the extent of alleging that the Congress candidates were in the “abandoned ship.” Therie, who is again heading the PCC, is hopeful the scenario will be different this time.

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