Local and regional parties have more or less retained their strength in the northeastern region in the recently-concluded Lok Sabha polls while among the two national parties, the BJP increased its members and the Congress significantly lost its strength in its erstwhile bastion.
Of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in the northeastern region comprising eight states, Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM), Meghalaya-based National People’s Party (NPP), Naga Peoples Front (NPF), Nagaland-based Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP), Mizoram- based Mizo National Front (MNF), Assam-based All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), all secured one seat each.
Independent candidate and 50-year-old tribal leader Naba Kumar Sarania, supported by local parties and student organisations, retained the Kokrajhar tribal reserved seat seat in western Assam.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the AIUDF, which had won three seats, this time succeeded in only one seat — Dhubri — where party supremo Badruddin Ajmal retained his seat. The SKM, NDPP and the MNF, who had no member in the 16th Lok Sabha, secured one seat each while NPP and NPF retained one seat each.
The SKM led by Prem Singh Tamang (Golay) showing an excellent electoral performance won an absolute majority in the just-concluded Sikkim Assembly polls, bringing the curtain down on the 25-year rule of Pawan Chamling-led Sikkim Democractic Front rule in the Himalayan state.
Like the 16th Lok Sabha, the two allies of Bharatiya Janata Party and important regional parties in northeast India — the Bodoland Peoples Front (BPF) and the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) — will have no representation in the 17th Lok Sabha too.
Though the BJP and the Congress have a substantial base in the northeast, as many as 67 parties, categorised by the Election Commission as state parties and registered unrecognised parties, are strengthening their base in the eight northeastern states.
Of the eight states, Sikkim, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram are currently governed by local parties. In Assam, Tripura, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh too the state parties have a very significant role in BJP-led governance.
According to a record of the Election Commission, there are 18 state parties in different northeastern states. Only one of these, the National People’s Party (NPP) has a pan-regional presence in Manipur, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Assam and leads the government in Meghalaya.
Riding the “Modi wave”, the BJP alone won 14 of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in eight northeastern states, against eight in the 2014 polls.
The Congress, which had a strong base in all the northeastern states but currently has no government under its rule in the region, has won only four seats (three in Assam and one in Meghalaya) against eight in 2014.
With three NDA constituents – the NDPP, the MNF, the NPP, the SKM – winning four seats, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has 18 members this time from the region against 11, five years ago.
Manipur People’s Party (MPP), one of the oldest parties (set up in 1968) in the northeastern region and which has headed governments in Manipur in 1972, 1974 and 1990, has failed to win any Lok Sabha seat in the state for the past many years.
The MPP is now an ally of the ruling BJP in Manipur.
Political analyst and writer Samudra Gupta Kashyap said: “Understanding the importance of regional parties, the BJP not only forged a strategic alliance and an umbrella body called the Northeast Democratic Alliance (NEDA) with regional parties in 2016, but also played up local sentiments in almost every election.
In Assam, the BJP joined hands with the AGP and the BPF, picked up the Bangladeshi influx issue and rode the wave created by the ‘jati-mati-bheti’ (identity-land-homestead) slogan to oust the Congress in 2016.
“Similarly, it picked up the tribal identity protection issue in Tripura and partnered with the IPFT (Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura),” Kashyap told IANS.
Following the BJP strategy, the Congress had also adopted a plan of playing up regional or local sentiments, he added. Though the Congress has no ally in Assam, it is trying to whip up sentiments on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which has been opposed by all regional parties.
Of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in the northeast, home to 45.58 million people as per the 2011 census, seven seats are reserved for tribals who constitute 27-28 per cent of the population.
Veteran political commentator Sanjib Deb said the current political situation in the northeast could not allow national parties to govern without the regional parties’ support.
“National parties have their own pan-India political strategies and policies. Similarly, the regional parties have their own agenda and demands that cannot be always endorsed by national parties,” Deb told IANS, adding the IPFT’s demand for statehood in Tripura was not supported by its dominant partner, the BJP.
Conrad K. Sangma-led National People’s Party (NPP), which aims to be the alternative to the Congress and the BJP in the northeast, has set up base in six of the eight northeastern states, excluding Tripura and Sikkim.
Sangma, the Chief Minister of Meghalaya, last month launched an arm of NPP in Assam with a plan to contest 14 Lok Sabha seats.
The NPP, set up in 2013 by former Union Minister and Lok Sabha Speaker P.A. Sangma after his expulsion from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in July 2012, is the dominant ruling party in Meghalaya with 20 legislators.
Besides, it has five MLAs in Arunachal Pradesh, four in Manipur, and two in Nagaland. The NPP is also a junior partner of the ruling BJP in Manipur and Nagaland.