BJP expands footprint in northeast, boosts prospects for 2019 Lok Sabha polls

New Delhi, March 3: The Bharatiya Janata Party appears to have consolidated its position as the principal pole of Indian politics due to its stunning victory in Tripura and its improved performance in Meghalaya and Nagaland with the results also showing that Congress continues to face multiple challenges to check its slide in the states.

The results are expected to help the BJP keep up its electoral momentum for the crucial electoral battle in Karnataka in about two months and expand its footprint to new areas for the crucial electoral battle in 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

The results are also expected to boost the morale of BJP workers in the difficult challenges the party faces to retain Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh at the end of the year.

The BJP's concerted push in Tripura, based on solid work at the grassroots, has given a jolt to the Left parties who have ruled the northeastern state for 25 years, and virtually decimated the Congress, which was the principal opposition party, with 36 percent vote share in 2013 polls.

With victory in Tripura, where the BJP had lost its deposit on 49 of 50 seats it contested in 2013 polls, the party has now set its eyes on winning Kerala, West Bengal and Odisha - three other states where it has traditionally been on a weak wicket.
BJP's victory in Tripura has come on the back of its victory in Assam and was its first direct contest with the Left parties.

With the National Democratic Alliance winning both Tripura and Nagaland and a hung house in Meghalaya, Mizoram is now the only state northeastern state out of ambit of NDA.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been giving a special thrust to the development of northeast since he came to power in 2014 and has been sending central ministers on regular tours to the region, which has severe development challenges and has faced challenge of militancy.

The government has also worked towards sustaining peace in the northeast and improving its connect with the neighbouring countries for enhanced business opportunities.
For a party seen to be inextricably linked to Hindutva, the outcome in Tripura coupled with improved performance in Christian-majority Nagaland and Meghalaya has come as a morale-booster. The northeast region has 25 Lok Sabha seats.

The Congress tally came down in Meghalaya, where it was in power, and it failed to open its account Tripura and Nagaland. The northeast has been a Congress bastion in the past but in both Tripura and Nagaland it was barely in contest.

The party was short of resources and some of its internal differences came out in the open. Five of its 23 candidates in Nagaland withdrew from the contest due to severe shortage of funds.

The party's Nagaland unit president, Kewe Khape Therie, complained that its candidates were on an "abandoned ship" and sought resignation of AICC general secretary-in-charge C.P. Joshi for the failures of the party in the northeast.

Saturday's poll outcome seems to have interrupted the momentum that the Congress was building against the Modi government following its improved performance in Gujarat and the bypoll victories in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

The party would have to make more concerted efforts to pin down the Modi government on the issue of corruption over the huge frauds in public sector banks and the flight of the main accused from the country.

If the Congress is not able to cobble together a majority in Meghalaya, it will be left in power in only in Punjab, Karnataka, Mizoram and the union territory of Puducherry.

The party has the onerous task of defending Karnataka, with the BJP now likely to focus all its energies to wrest the southern state.

If the Congress loses Karnataka, it will be left with Punjab as the only major state in its kitty, making the task of its revival ahead of 2019 polls that much more difficult.

The Congress continues to face organisational challenges with the likely revamp by its new president Rahul Gandhi nowhere in sight.

The Congress faces a formidable opponents in Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah who work in synergy to deliver electoral results. The BJP also appears to have developed an expertise in booth-level management and has considerably expanded its footprint since its victory in 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

The Congress is holding its plenary later this month and has to work out a strategy to arrest its downward slide while getting back to its winning ways.



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