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Decimated in Nagaland, Mixed Bag in Tripura, Meghalaya — How Congress Performed

The Congress failed to open its account in Nagaland, won five seats in Meghalaya and three in Tripura.

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The Congress party’s performance in the Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya elections has brought to the fore, once again, its dwindling hold on the region. The party has gone from once being the most popular party or the principal opposition party in the three northeastern states to now barely managing single digits.

In Nagaland, the BJP and Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) alliance won 37 seats, whereas the National People’s Front (NPF) won two, National People's party won five and the Congress failed to open its account entirely. In Tripura, the ruling BJP-Indigenous Progressive Front of Tripura (IPFT) alliance has won on 33 of the 60 seats, the Pradyot Manikya Debbarma's Tipra Motha has won 13 seats and the Left-Congress alliance has won 14. And in Meghalaya, National People's Party (NPP) won 26 seats and the Congress has won 5. This means that the Congress won’t be able to form the government in any of these three states.

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Congress Survives Despite Defections In Meghalaya

In Meghalaya, the Congress state chief Vincent Pala lost from the Sutnga Saipung constituency. This comes as a significant setback for the party, despite having won 5 of the sixty seats in the assembly.

The Congress party had emerged as the single-largest in the 2018 Meghalaya polls winning 21 seats. However, all its MLAs then defected to the TMC and other political parties. Despite this embarrassing setback, the party fielded candidates in all 60 seats of the Meghalaya assembly this time.

In 2021, 12 Congress MLAs led by former CM Mukul Sangma defected to the TMC, making it the principal opposition in the state overnight.

Since then, Pala had practically been leading a lone fight in trying to revive the party. In interviews, Pala said this gave the party a chance to start afresh, and of the 60 candidates, 47 put up by the party were under 45.

Despite the fact that TMC usurped a substantial chunk of Congress members, both parties performed mostly neck and neck in the polls. The Congress has somehow been able to hold on to a voter base, and the TMC hasn’t outshone it. Both Congress and TMC won five seats, and both have a similar vote share of a little over thirteen per cent.

Piggybacking On Left In Tripura

In the 2018 Assembly elections, the Congress party, which at the time had gone solo and wasn’t part of the Left alliance, won zero seats. This time, the party forged an alliance with the Left parties and seems to have benefited from it.

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The alliance has won 14 seats, of which Congress has won 3. The vote-transfer thus effectively helped the Congress piggyback on the Left parties’ popularity. The Congress’ vote share too has increased from 1.79 per cent in 2018 to 8.6 per cent in 2023.

Besides the alliance with the Left front, the Congress’ marginally improved performance could also be credited to the return of Sudip Roy Barman, a 6-time MLA who started his career with the Congress but switched to Trinamool Congress (TMC) in 2016 and then to BJP. In 2022, he returned to the Congress and managed to retain his seat in the June 2022 by-polls, when the Congress faced an overall bleak result. Barman enjoys popularity and a strong base in the state, helping its fortunes.

However, the debut of former Congress leader Pradyut Deb Barman’s TIPRA Motha party may have also led to a split in the votes.

Decimated in Nagaland

However, unlike Tripura and Meghalaya, the Congress stands completely decimated in Nagaland. The party failed to win even a single seat, even as other party has won one or more. The Janta Dal United (JDU) won 1 seat, the Lok Janshakti Party(Ram Vilas) won 2, the Nationalist Congress Party won 6, and the Republican Party of India (Athawale) won 2.

The party has been having a rough run in the state for a while.

Back in 2003, the Congress party had emerged as the single-largest party in Nagaland winning 21 seats, but the Naga People’s Front (NPF) with 19 seats formed a post-poll alliance with the BJP and other parties to form the government.

Then in 2015, the Congress suffered another jolt when eight of its MLAs joined the NPF-BJP alliance. From there, things only went downhill, so much so that the party struggled to field strong candidates for the 2018 polls and 15 of its 18 candidates ended up losing their deposits.

Nagaland was touted as an ‘opposition-less’ state election, especially given how the polls were held only on 59 of the 60 seats in the assembly, since BJP’s Kazheto Kinimi was re-elected unopposed from Akuluto seat when all other candidates withdrew their nomination.

While BJP was expected to win the polls, the fact that other regional and non-regional parties managed to open their account but Congress didn’t, is very telling.

'Congress' Failure To Retain Talent'

Political analysts say that the election results are a “mixed bag for Congress” but have larger lessons for the party.  
 
“For northeast, we constantly say that it is the regional parties and the individual players who matter. But if many individual players also don’t want to ally with Congress, if they feel that allying with other lesser-known parties will mean better chances at winning, then that’s a problem for the party,” Amitabh Tiwari told The Quint. 
 
“Congress’ ability to identify and retain talent continues to be its biggest lacunae, in northeast as well. Mukul Sangma, Pradyot Deb Barman...they were all once with Congress,” said Tiwari. 
 
Tiwari also said that the party needs to learn from BJP “the art of managing contradictions well.” 
 
“For instance, the BJP might be seen as anti-Christian in Chhattisgarh or Jharkhand, but manages to win in Christian-majority seats in northeastern states. That is a skill of managing contradictions that the BJP has been able to nail,” he said. 

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