The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Saturday expanded its footprint further in India’s ethnically and religiously diverse Northeast by ousting the Left Front government in Tripura and was on its way to forming a coalition government in Nagaland. But Meghalaya threw up a hung Assembly with the incumbent Congress emerging as the single-largest party.
With the BJP’s improved performance in the Northeast — it now runs governments in Manipur and Assam as well — the Narendra Modi government will now need to face the challenge of delivering on the contentious Naga Accord.
In Nagaland, the BJP had contested the polls with the Neiphiu Rio-led Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP). On its own, the BJP won a creditable 11 seats and 14.6 per cent if the votes. With its ally NDPP winning 15 seats, the alliance fell short of the halfway mark.
However, Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju said his party would form a coalition government with the Naga Peoples Front, which won 27 seats, four short of a majority in the 60-member Assembly.
However, Congress leaders Kamal Nath and Ahmed Patel landed in Shillong to reach out to smaller parties to explore the possibility of forming the government and prevent a repeat of Goa and Manipur where the party had emerged the single-largest party but was beaten by a fleet-footed BJP in government formation.
Until 2016, the BJP never had a government in any of the northeastern states. Efficient election management and electoral tie-ups made the BJP win the Assam Assembly polls in 2016. By the end of that year, behind-the-scenes work helped it form the government in Arunachal Pradesh. While the Congress emerged the single-largest party in Manipur in the 2017 Assembly polls, the BJP had reached out to smaller parties to form the government in that state.
As the results trickled in on Saturday, the Tripura verdict brought much cheer to the BJP leadership. It had defeated its ideological enemy, the CPI (M), which has won elections successively in the state since 1993. The Congress vote share collapsed from 36.53 per cent in 2013 to 1.8 per cent. The alliance of the BJP and Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) was on course to win 43 of the 60 seats.
The BJP, along with its allies, will now have governments in 21 states. But a jubilant party chief Amit Shah said the BJP's golden era would be when its wrested West Bengal, Odisha and Karnataka from rival parties. The Karnataka Assembly polls are scheduled for April-May.
Aware that the BJP and its ally the National People’s Party might struggle to cobble a coalition, Shah ruled out the possibility of his party engaging in horse-trading in Meghalaya. "Where is the question of 'tod-phod' (horse-trading). The Congress does not have a majority there," he said.
Shah said the wins were an endorsement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership. Assam minister and BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma said Tripura’s outgoing chief minister Manik Sarkar could take shelter in West Bengal, Kerala or neighbouring Bangladesh.
In a statement, the CPI (M) said the BJP “utilised massive deployment of money and other resources to influence the elections”. It said the BJP was able to consolidate all the anti-Left votes and virtually appropriated the erstwhile main opposition party, the Congress. The CPI (M) politburo “thanked” the 45 per cent of Tripura voters who voted for the Left parties.
The defeat for the CPI (M) comes at a time of an internal battle between former party chief Prakash Karat and current chief Sitaram Yechury. The party conclave in Hyderabad in the later part of April is set to discuss the party’s attitude towards electoral understandings with other “secular democratic parties” for the Lok Sabha polls.
The BJP’s wins in the Northeast tie well with its plans to compensate any losses it might suffer in northern India by winning seats in some of its electorally weaker areas.