Rahul Gandhi In Meghalaya, Focus On Grassroots Connect, Not Rallies

The political dynamics in the northeast has dramatically changed in the last three years. In 2015, the Congress ruled four states there, now that's down to half.

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Congress president Rahul Gandhi addressing students in Shillong.


Guwahati:  On his first visit to Meghalaya after a year, Congress president Rahul Gandhi launched his party's campaign for the assembly elections that will be held on February 27. But at Jowai, his first stop in a state the Congress has ruled for 14 years barring a year in between, he did not hold a public rally. Instead, he met party workers and tried to boost their morale. In Nagaland (that votes the same day as Meghalaya) and Tripura (where polling will be held on February 18) the Congress is struggling, with most of its leaders now in the BJP fold.

The political dynamics in the northeast has dramatically changed in the last three years. In 2015, the Congress ruled four states there, now that's down to half.

Leading the BJP's 'Mission North East' is former Congressman Himanta Biswa Sarma. First to fall was Assam and three-time Congress chief minister Tarun Gogoi. Then it was Arunachal, not through an election but because most of the Congress lawmakers switched sides. And then last year, Manipur fell into the BJP's grasp. With its allies in power in Nagaland and Sikkim, now the BJP wants a Congress-'mukt' Meghalaya. 

"My message to all young people is that we will protect your culture and free thinking," Mr Gandhi said.

No big ticket rally during the Congress chief's two day visit to the state but it was mostly interactions with various groups -- religious leaders, students and academicians -- and an appearance at a rock concert. 

"It's not experiment,  it's tried and tested strategy. Rallies and not the real show of strength but this grassroots connect is key," said Congress spokesperson Tom Vadakkan.  

The Congress chief blamed Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the situation in Nagaland, where several groups and political parties have demanded that the elections be deferred to facilitate an early resolution of the Naga insurgency issue. The framework agreement was signed between the insurgent group NSCN (I-M) and the central government in 2015.

"Nobody has understood what the Prime Minister had signed, (or) whether he had signed. This is his style. This (Naga accord) is similar to (November 8, 2016) demonetisation and implementation of Goods and Services Tax at midnight," Mr Gandhi told journalists.

In Meghalaya's 60-member assembly, Congress had 30 lawmakers but chief minister Mukul Sangma faced revolt after he dropped some ministers over the past year. Seven Congress lawmakers have switched sides -- five to  BJP's ally National People's Party and one each to the BJP and the People's Democratic Front.

"There is a mood for change. Whether it's the BJP,  NPP or any other party,  we have one common adversary -- the Congress," Nalin Kohli,  BJP in-charge for Meghalaya, told NDTV.

If that "change" does happen, Congress will be left with only one state, Mizoram, in the northeast. Ahead of the 2019 elections,  it's a situation the Congress can ill afford.


Get the latest election news, live updates and election schedule for Lok Sabha Elections 2019 on ndtv.com/elections. Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter and Instagram for updates from each of the 543 parliamentary seats for the 2019 Indian general elections.

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