Tripura polls: Key Congress leader says BJP’s presence in North East overrated, but expects two-way race with Left

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Imphal (firstpost): The Congress leader entrusted with overseeing the party’s election preparations in the North East believes the BJP’s presence in the region is overrated.

With Tripura scheduled to go to polls in less than three weeks €” followed by Meghalaya and Nagaland just nine days later €” Congress president Rahul Gandhi has asked the party’s Manipur-based leader, Rajkumar Imo, to assist the Tripura Congress Committee in awarding tickets to the worthy and improve the party’s prospects in the state.

Imo is a third generation Congressman. His late father, RK Jaichandra Singh, was Manipur’s seventh chief minister while his father-in-law, Nongthombam Biren, migrated from the Congress to the BJP in 2016 to become the party’s first chief minister of the state.

Imo spoke with Armstrong Chanambam for Firstpost about the prospects of a Congress resurgence in the hill states. Edited excerpts follow:

>What groundwork has your team done to revive the Congress in Tripura? This is not going to be an easy election for the Congress, which has been in the Opposition for 25 years. During my three trips to Tripura before 20 December, I travelled across 20 constituencies and local leaders everywhere told me that we must refrain from joining hands with regional parties.

When I visited two constituencies on the Tripura-Bangladesh border, I was told that I was the first party representative to visit the area in the last 40 years. People were pleased and advised that I identify leaders in terms of priority while allocating tickets as this will enhance the performance of the party in the long run. We gathered insights from the local leaders, party workers and heard common people’s expectations to put together a ground report to help formulate our poll strategy.

>How important are young leaders for the Congress this election? We are looking to connect with more of young people who show promise and will remain an asset to the party in the long run. Our focus will be on candidates who have a high probability of winning, who will remain rooted in the party and aren’t likely to defect to another party.

> Is the Congress in talks with or willing to talk to other parties about any alliance to counter CPM? In the past Assembly elections, the Congress had always joined hands with other local parties, such as INPT and IPFT, for the tribal seats. But this time around, we have not decided if we will share the reserved seats with any local outfit; the Congress may go to the polls alone. We will go by the local representatives’ opinions as much as possible so that the party also creates workers and retains candidates at the grassroots level, which I approve off.

>BJP is on a winning spree across the country. How do you plan to check this in Tripura and the rest of North East? Our main opponent at the national level is the BJP, but in Tripura, our focus is on the Left-front government, which has ruled Tripura for 25 years. However, the BJP will employ all privileges at its disposal as it’s in power at the Centre. But we will take on these challenges and wrest a majority. I feel it will be the Congress that dethrones the Left-front government in Tripura.

>The RSS organised one of its biggest rallies in Guwahati recently to spread its wings in the North East. What do you make of it? The BJP has won only in Assam and hasn’t performed spectacularly in the North East. Of course, it is ruling in Manipur but it managed to win only 21 seats while the Congress bagged 28. Despite losing in Gujarat, the Congress managed to receive the maximum number of votes in last 20 years. Party workers feel rejuvenated after our recent performances.

Initially, I was of the opinion that Tripura will prove to be a tough contest due to the Left-front government’s 25-year reign. However, after numerous visits to the state, Agartala seems to be way behind Imphal in terms of development. It would be prudent to change such a government and that is going to be our focus in Tripura.

The Congress is in power in Meghalaya and we consider the Conrad Sangma-led NPP as the principal opposition party. The BJP doesn’t have a strong presence in Nagaland. Yes, they have performed well in one or two states, but I do not see the so-called BJP wave here.

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