April 11 poll is the acid – test for regional parties from NE

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The world is focusing on India as the nation undertakes the biggest democratic exercise in the world. Beginning April 11, the Phase 1 of the staggered 7-phase election that will conclude on May 19, with results to be declared on March 23 next, will see the process to elect the 17th Lok Sabha.

The political pundits have conflicting predictions, but most stated that the total seats for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will drop from 2014 result, yet United Progressive Alliance (UPA) will be finding it hard to unseat the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Therefore, non-BJP and non-Congress parties will emerge as the biggest block in Parliament and decide the formation of the 17th Session of Lok Sabha.

North Eastern Region has a total of 25 MPs in Lok Sabha out of 545 members with Arunachal Pradesh having 2 seats, Assam having 14 seats, Manipur – 2 seats, Meghalaya – 2 seats, Mizoram – 1 seat, Nagaland -1 seat, Sikkim – 1 seat and Tripura having 2 seats. For decades, there have been attempts to unify the region, so that their voices could be heard in the Parliament, but it has been difficult to have a common agenda to project the region as inter-state disputes become the bottleneck to have one voice from the region.

The North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), a political coalition that was 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, AGP and Bodoland People’s Front in Northeast and National People’s Party (NPP), besides other likeminded political party, with an aim to unify all Regional Parties to uproot Congress regime in the region, is finding it hard to keep the flock together due to the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), 2016, which was passed in the Lok Sabha on January 8, 2019 but failed to be passed in the Rajya Sabha.

The political pundits pointed out that the CAB will only be an advantage to the BJP, knowing well that the NEDA alliance, who are mostly anti-Congress, will still need the patronage of the Central party, especially the one Ruling. The fact that despite initial quibbles and bravado, the coalition partners of NDA from the region remain together even after January 8, is evident of the need to rely on Centre’s patronage.

Under similar game-plan, NPP wanted to contest in all the 25 seats in the region but had to concede to its regional coalition partners. In the home state of NPP’s National President – Conrad Kongkal Sangma, the ruling Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) had to back the United Democratic Party (UDP) candidate as Common candidate for the Shillong seat while it fielded its candidate from Tura. Also, BJP, despite being in the NPP led MDA coalition, has fielded its candidates in both Shillong and Tura.

BJP senior Leader in-charge of North East, Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma is learnt to have been extremely upset with the coalition partners for opposing the CAB, therefore the saffron party was compelled to put up candidates in both Tura and Shillong seats as a gamble.

In the case of Tura seat, it used to be a straight fight between the NPP and the Congress. With the entry of BJP in the fray, it is feared that this will only benefit the Congress candidate Dr Mukul Manda Sangma, while NPP candidate Agatha Kongkal Sangma will have to work harder as she loses the vote bank to Mukul.

It is just the opposite in the case of Shillong Parliamentary seat. The BJP candidate Sanbor Shullai will surely cut into the vote bank of the Congress with Vincent H Pala seeking re-election for the third term. The habitual behaviour of the electorates for anti-incumbency will be another factor Pala will be facing, particularly with the personal charisma of Sanbor, as both of them cutting into each other’s vote bank will only benefit the Regional party candidate Dr Jemino Mawthoh (UDP), of which both Jemino or Sanbor could be the dark horse for Shillong seat.

Such multi-corner contest for both the seats in Meghalaya have put the MDA into an acid test for its survival, at the same time they need to gain more seats from the region in order to bargain with the New Government at the Centre on important issues to come up in future affecting the region.