One of the parties which faced a setback in the recently concluded elections in three Northeastern states is the Trinamool Congress. The party won five seats in Meghalaya and failed to open its account in Tripura. It even lost the Sagardihi bypoll in West Bengal where it is in power.
By most accounts this is an underwhelming performance given the effort and resources the party had deployed, particularly in Meghalaya and Tripura.
So what went wrong?
In Meghalaya, the TMC was buoyant following the induction of former Congress CM Mukul Sangma and a number of the party's MLAs.
The TMC believed it had a shot at winning power in the state or at least emerge as the main Opposition party. However, that did not happen.
It was the United Democratic Party that emerged as the number two party with 11 seats and about 16 percent votes. It remains to be seen if the UDP joins the NPP-led government as it had done in the last term or if it would choose to become the main Opposition party.
Even if it joins the government, the Leader of Opposition post won't come to TMC as it doesn't have 10 percent of the total number of seats.
Three things seem to have gone wrong for the TMC in Meghalaya.
First, it was still seen as an 'outsider' party in Meghalaya, that too one from Bengal. The UDP in contrast is indigenous to the state and has been the ruling party in the past.
Second, it was too dependent on Mukul Sangma and his family. It couldn't compete well in areas outside their sphere of influence. This helped UDP become the main challenger to NPP in the Khasi Hills.
Third, the TMC underestimated the Congress' recall value among voters. The Grand Old Party got five seats and about 13 percent votes, roughly the same as the TMC.
Though disappointed at its weakening position in state politics, many Congress leaders say the party did decently given the circumstances.
They point out that the party lost much of its legislative strength and was short on resources compared to the TMC. They hired a company for the campaign, just one month before polling, in sharp contrast to I-PAC's sustained involvement on the TMC campaign.
Despite that the Congress managed to match the TMC in terms of vote share.
"People recognise the Congress. For many voters, the name matters more than any leader. In the limited time we got, we just wanted to focus on this simple message," a strategist with DesignBoxed, the company hired by Congress in Meghalaya, told The Quint.
In Tripura, the TMC's performance was a disaster as it failed to even cross one percent of the total votes polled. About a year ago, they had started creating a buzz in the state.
The Tripura police was allegedly sent to intimidate the I-PAC team which sent the signal that the TMC may emerge as a major player in the state. But its campaign didn't quite take off, despite the linguistic commonality between West Bengal and Tripura.
The TMC brought on board Sushmita Deb, former Congress MP from Silchar in the neighbouring part of Assam, but didn't quite utilise her properly.
Instead the Left-Congress combine emerged as the main Opposition in the Bengali speaking areas and the TIPRA Motha did well in the tribal areas.
Another setback for the TMC was its defeat at the hands of the Congress in the bypoll to the Sagardihi Assembly constituency in Murshidabad district.
The Congress managed to wrest the seat from the TMC and get its first MLA in the present Assembly.
This is a seat with a high concentration of Muslim voters and it falls in the area of influence of senior Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Choudhury.
This result would be a cause of worry for the TMC as it does indicate that some Muslim voters who had voted for it in the 2021 Assembly polls may be tilting back to the Congress at least in districts like Murshidabad where the Grand Old Party has been strong.
Despite winning zero seats at the Assembly level, the Congress may still be a force to reckon with in its traditional bastions in North and central Bengal.
What Next for TMC?
It's national expansion plans are now in jeopardy. Already the party had failed to make in impact in last year's Goa elections. The party may now have to go back to the drawing board.
The Congress is confident that it may be able to win back a bit of the support it may have lost to the TMC at least in Meghalaya and its erstwhile bastions in West Bengal.
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