Warning shots for Congress in northeast verdict

March 19th, 2008 - 11:53 am ICT by admin  

(News Analysis)
By Syed Zarir Hussain
Guwahati, March 19 (IANS) The verdict in the just concluded elections in three northeastern states - Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya - should serve as a warning for the Congress. The party was routed by the Marxists in Tripura, overtaken yet again by a regional party in Nagaland, and held back from reaching the magic figure of 31 in the 60-member House by the Nationalist Congress party (NCP) in Meghalaya.

“Anti-incumbency was not a factor at all for the ruling Left Front in Tripura and the Nagaland People’s Front (NPF) in Nagaland and, therefore, the Congress could not reap any benefit on that count,” said Wasbir Hussain, a political commentator.

“Fractured verdict has been a traditional feature in Meghalaya’s electoral politics, but what is new is that the NCP has emerged as a serious challenge to the Congress.”

The Congress got the worst drubbing in Tripura in recent years. The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led Left Front in fact improved upon its 2003 performance, winning 49 of the 60 assembly seats. The Left Front had won 41 seats in the 2003 polls.

This, despite the fact that one of the Left Front constituents, the Forward Bloc, had contested the polls in Tripura on its own this time following a dispute over seat allocation.

The Congress in Tripura bagged only 10 seats, three less that its tally in 2003. Its tribal ally, the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura (INPT), too fared miserably, winning just one seat this time. The INPT had won six in 2003.

In Nagaland, the fact that it is the Congress party that has been going ahead with the process of holding peace parleys with the region’s frontline separatist group, the Isak-Muivah faction of the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM), failed to get converted into votes. The Congress won 23 seats, behind the NPF’s individual tally of 26.

The NPF, led by former chief minister Neiphiu Rio, emerged as the largest single party, despite the party-led government having been dismissed two months before the polls and President’s Rule imposed. Although the Rio government was dismissed on several charges, including alleged corruption, the NPF bagged 26 seats. This meant that the Congress was not the natural party of choice of voters in Nagaland.

The NPF has since returned to power with the support of its partners in the Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN).

For the Congress, the face-saving verdict came in Meghalaya where it emerged the largest single party with 25 seats. After getting the invitation from Governor S.S. Sidhu to form the government because it is the largest single party, the Congress has taken over with D.D. Lapang as chief minister. Lapang is to prove his strength in the 60-member assembly in the next few days.

The Congress may or may not win the trial of strength on the floor of the house but what needs to be noted is the emergence of the NCP under the leadership of former Lok Sabha speaker P.A. Sangma as a major force in Meghalaya politics.

It is because the NCP has bagged as many as 14 seats that the Congress is short of its magic number of 31 MLAs. That is because the NCP has cut into the Congress’ vote bank.

Political leaders are still working on their arithmetic in Meghalaya, but the bottom line is that the Congress may not really be on a firm footing in the turbulent frontier ahead of parliamentary polls in the summer of next year.

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