BJP eyeing 19 of the 25 Northeast seats in Fray
The 4th January Vijay Sankalp rally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Silchar is about kick-starting the poll campaign from the eastern part of India. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wants to ensure maximum seats in the coming general elections so that the seats that they lose in other states can be compensated for.
With the Congress decimated from the whole of northeast (after Mizoram), the BJP and its partners are trying to win maximum of the 25 seats from the region. The Vijay Sankalp Yatra has started and this rally in Silchar is the clarion call for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
The dismal performance of BJP in the recent by-elections across the country has brought down its tally from 282 seats to 271 seats in the Lok Sabha. They have already lost 11 seats that they had won in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Interestingly, party president Amit Shah has set a target of 350 seats for the BJP workers. At current sentiments and after the loss in three states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, winning 350 seats looks like an uphill task for the BJP. Anything above 250 Lok Sabha seats would make BJP limp back to power with help of the coalition partners.
The emergence of Rahul Gandhi in a new attacking avatar has become a headache for BJP as the Congress president has been a vocal critic of the prime minister and has been tenacious in his attacks. Gandhi has managed to revive the Congress apparatus to an extent and has managed to set the political tone. But the organization still remains in tatters in most of the states. Barring a few states there are no strong, second rung leaders in Congress to run the show. Its real litmus test lies just a few months away.
The BJP, on the other hand claims to be the world’s largest political organisation in terms of membership. Its organisation base is strong in most of the major states and it has a battery of leaders who keep the workers and the party busy with organisational activities. But elections are about people’s sentiments and taking sides, and right now the BJP can only hope that the voters are with them. They have a more dangerous predicament lurking – losing the power and esteem.
Coming back to the northeast, the Silchar rally was important for BJP, as the state has been witnessing a large number of protests by various organisations against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016. The BJP in the state and centre has been widely criticized for bringing out the bill. But the bill saw support in the Barak Valley and so the BJP is taking advantage of this support and has timed the Modi rally well. Moreover, just a day before the rally, the union cabinet’s decision to set up the high level committee to implement Clause 6 of the Assam Accord adds more to BJP’s commitment on being Assam-centric.
As per Assam finance minister and North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) Convenor, Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma, the BJP and its allies can expect to win 19 of the 25 Lok Sabha seats from the northeast. As per Dr Sarma, the northeastern states and eastern India are going to contribute handsomely to the BJP’s kitty in 2019.
From the northeast, BJP had won eight seats in the 2014 general elections. Getting 19 would mean an addition of 11 seats. BJP won 7 of the 14 seats in Assam and 1 seat in Arunachal Pradesh.
So which are the 11 seats that the BJP and its partners are probable of winning or trying to wrest back from their opponents? Let’s take them apart state by state.
Tripura (2 seats)
Given the party’s performance in local polls in Tripura, under the leadership of chief minister Biplab Kumar Deb the BJP is confident of bagging both the seats there. In the last polls the seats were won by the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Comparing vote shares won’t reveal much in Tripura as the state is slowly transforming into a BJP stronghold with opposition party workers joining BJP en-masse.
Arunachal Pradesh (1 seat)
Home to Kiren Rijiju, minister of state for defence, the BJP already has the Arunachal West. They now just need to get the Arunachal East which is currently under Ninon Ering of the Congress. The last election saw a neck to neck fight between Tapir Gao (BJP) and Ninon Ering. The BJP is already in a strong footing in Arunachal Pradesh under chief minister Pema Khandu who switched to BJP in 2016. Of now, he seems to be comfortable in the BJP camp.
Manipur (2 seats)
Of the two seats in Manipur, if the BJP manages an understanding with the Naga People’s Front for the Outer Manipur seat the tide can be towards NDA. The Inner Manipur Lok Sabha seat can be a tough battle for the NDA with the UPA-led mahagathbandhan in play.
Assam (9 seats)
In Assam, BJP has to retain its 7 seats and as per ground reports some of these constituencies may see change of candidates. There has been unhappiness brewing among the voters and some of the incumbents have not fared well. Given the population pattern and the current sentiments the BJP can at best get two more seats. Moreover, the partnership with AGP will be deciding factor in some of the seats. A break-up might not be favourable for the BJP as this election will be a very tight one and it needs everyone.
The Karimganj Lok Sabha Constituency is what the BJP wants to get back from All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF).
Krishna Das lost to Radheshyam Biswas from AIUDF. It will not be an easy call as AIUDF might come into a secret understanding with the Congress to spoil BJP’s plans. The Modi rally in Silchar was to improve the vote share of the BJP in the Cachar and the Karimganj seats.
Though a traditional Congress bastion, Barpeta is another seat that the BJP will be trying to snatch from AIUDF. Chandra Mohan Patwory, the present state industry minister was defeated by Sirajuddin Ajmal, who is the brother of Badruddin Ajmal (AIUDF chief). The percentage of votes that the BJP candidate received suggests a BJP wave in Barpeta. In 2014, it was the AGP candidate Phani Bhusan Choudhury who spoilt the BJP game. He is now in Sarbananda Sonowal’s cabinet. The BJP and AGP are in a tricky coalition in the state but the recent defeat in the panchayat polls has reduced AGP’s bargaining power. A good understanding between the partners can bring the seat to BJP’s fold. And if the AGP decides to discontinue the coalition and put up a candidate, the seat might go to the AIUDF or surprisingly to the Congress.
The most prized seat that the BJP will try to get is the Kaliabor constituency represented by Gaurav Gogoi, son of three-time Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi. BJP might give the seat to AGP (if coalition remains) just to break the Congress morale. A contender in the form of Keshav Mahanta, AGP leader and cabinet minister in the present coalition can bring the fight to Gaurav’s doorsteps. It can turn into a tough battle for this Rahul Gandhi banner man with the AGP and BJP plotting to have the last laugh in Kaliabor.
Of the 10 assembly constituencies in Kaliabor Lok Sabha, the Congress has four (4), the BJP two (2), AGP three (3) and AIUDF one (1). If AIUDF leans towards Congress and the BJP-AGP put up a coalition front it will be a neck and neck fight in Kaliabor where the results can’t be predicted till the last counting hours. But these are mere ifs and buts which the election juggernaut is made up of and keeps changing with every passing day.
Mizoram (1 seat)
The recent win of Mizo National Front (MNF) who is part of NEDA confirms the lone seat for the coalition. Given the performance of the Congress in the recent state polls, this seat will go to the NDA.
Meghalaya (1 seat)
In Meghalaya it is chief minister Conrad Sangma’s National People’s Party that would be trying to retain the famous Tura Lok Sabha seat. NPP is in alliance in the state and in the centre with BJP. It has been the home ground of the Sangma family and has been earlier represented by his father PA Sangma. The extra seat with Congress will be for contention and the BJP and NPP would love to take it.
Nagaland (1 seat)
The Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) holds the Nagaland seat that it won in a by-poll. It is a part of the NPF that also has support base in Manipur and is a NEDA member.
Sikkim (1 seat)
The Sikkim Lok Sabha constituency has been with the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) since 1996. The SDF is a part of the NDA and this seat is not going anywhere soon.
After this state-wise break-up, if all goes well it seems that the BJP and the allies will manage to win give and take 17-18 seats out of the 25.
On the other hand, the tables may turn against the BJP and its allies, especially in Assam, as the AIUDF and Congress’s understanding could be seen during the panchayat polls. So, if AIUDF decides to ruin BJP’s party, all it has to do is let Congress win in some seats and put up candidates to eat BJP’s share of votes in tight constituencies. Also, the coalition with AGP and the seat-sharing arrangement is another headache for the BJP. It seems it would be an interesting 2019 Lok Sabha elections for the northeast this time.