In an attempt to capture more seats for the upcoming Lok Sabha General Election 2019, Indian National Congress President, Rahul Gandhi on July 3, 2018 reconstituted the Party’s North East Coordination Congress Committee (NECCC) with Former Meghalaya Chief Minister, Dr Mukul Manda Sangma as the Chairman, Former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh as its patron and all Congress Chief Ministers and former Chief Ministers of the north-eastern states will be advisors. The region has 25 seats from all the eight states.
A couple of day earlier, Bharatiya Janata Party Chief Amit Shah has set the target of retaining all the 26 Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat in the 2019 elections. It appears to be an uphill task for his party considering its performance in the 2017 Assembly polls, where it managed to win only 99 out of 182 seats. Rajasthan, which is the BJP Ruled state alone have 25 seats, which is the total number in North East - Arunachal Pradesh (2), Assam (14), Manipur (2), Meghalaya (2), Mizoram (1), Nagaland (1), Sikkim (1) and Tripura (2).
Mukul was given the target to mobilize and increase the Congress outreach in the northeast amid efforts by the BJP to expand its influence in the region ahead of the Lok Sabha polls next year. The saffron party was headed by Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma, the incumbent Health Minister of the state of Assam. He is currently also the Minister of Finance and P.W.D and Convenor of NEDA (North Eastern Democratic Alliance) - a political coalition formed on May 24, 2016 by BJP along with regional political parties like Naga People’s Front, Sikkim Democratic Front, People’s Party of Arunachal, Asom Gana Parishad, National People’s Party (NPP) and Bodoland People’s Front in Northeast India. The motive of the new political front was to protect the interest of the people of the region as well as uniting non-Congress parties in Northeast India.
Himanta who is a former Congress Leader, is said to be the architect of the BJP with the specific ‘Congress-mukt’ (Congress free) mission in the region, he is well experienced in the Congress mindset, as he had been aspiring to be a Congress Chief Minister when he revolted against the leadership of three-time former Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi. He is also said to be instrumental in the toppling of the Dr D D Lapang Meghalaya Government in 2010 and installed Mukul as the new leader.
Himanta has come to the rescue of Mukul a number of times, including solving the Langpih issue, an area which lies between West Khasi Hills and Assam’s Kamrup district, being a good friend of the then Chief Minister - Mukul. He was most visible during the tussle between Assam and Meghalaya over the Langpih issue since 2008. It is suspected that this was his game plan to destabilize the Meghalaya Progressive Alliance (MPA) government, a conglomerate of non-Congress parties.
Himanta is not only known for his articulation and execution of plans and programmes for the party. His skills to raise party funds too were appreciated even by the High Command. His exit from the Congress hopefully will not be like other veteran leaders who have now lost their charm in the mist of political uncertainty. Once again using the same card, he has now helped the BJP to storm into power and form the first BJP government in Assam.
Yet the All India Congress Committee (AICC) did not change its hierarchal style of functioning, which Himanta too is well acquainted with. The reconstituted NECCC , besides the leaders mention, will also include state Congress unit chiefs, leaders of the legislative party, present and former MPs from the region’s states as members. Also the party General Secretary incharge of the northeastern states and the attached secretary will be special invitees to the NECCC.
Rahul should introspect on the functional system of the AICC and NECCC as there are various demands for an organizational revamp in the party. The advisory board is likely to be modelled on the National Advisory Council of the UPA government which in the past had made few recommendations to the AICC as well as state units. Rahul had assured to induct more youths into the power circle and all senior leaders will get equal respect.
But, many other leaders who after reaching the peak of their political career in the Congress find it suffocating and have expressed their disapproval of the hierarchy system within the AICC, where many good leaders fail to gain entry into the sanctum sanctorum of the planning committee or the think tank of the party. Many others who were in a hurry to reach the top had parted ways with the Congress in various instances while very few have managed to stage a comeback.
The political pundits had on many occasions attributed the success of the BJP in the 2014 election to professional media management and the whip of the party, where all the leaders were particular in the colours they dressed in for campaigning, the usage of words and more so carried the image of a united party unlike the Indian National Congress (INC), where the party hierarchy has relegated many aspiring leaders to bench warmers.
Mukul is already feeling the heat as he is now made the NECCC chief, just before the Lok Sabha General Election in 2019. The bye elections to the state Assembly due to the resignations of Congress rebel Martin M Danggo and NPP’s Agatha Kongkal Sangma will be first acid test for Mukul as NECCC Chief.
It will be worth watching how Himanta will once again put in his wits to create yet another political ripple against his once best friend Mukul in the upcoming Lok Sabha election with the mission of Congress-mukt’ and Mukul also knows the working style of his opponent to battle for North East for their respective parties.