New Delhi: In view of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) expanding its footprints in the Northeast, the Indian National Congress (INC) has started drawing up a strategy to counter any move to displace it as the main opposition force in the region. The recent meeting of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi with the top leaders of the Meghalaya unit is the start of a process to keep the party as the foremost challenger to the BJP in the region.

Sources in the Congress told The Sunday Guardian that the central leadership had been keeping an eye on the developments and hence called former Chief Minister of Meghalaya and Congress Legislature Party leader Mukul M. Sangma and state Congress head Vincent H. Pala to the national capital to bury differences ahead of the bypolls to three Assembly seats in the state—Rajabala, Mawryngkneng and Mawphlang—scheduled for 30 October. Likewise, the Congress leadership is also in touch with Assam unit leaders for the bypolls in three seats there and is providing all necessary support. A senior political analyst based in Guwahati, Prabin Chandra Kalita said: “The Congress has got super active in the Northeast in view of the continuous activities of the TMC. The realisation in the Congress is that Mamata Banerjee is trying to grow in the region at the cost of the Congress. All other Northeastern states keenly followed the recently concluded Assam Assembly elections as the political developments in the state have a fallout across the Northeast, but after the Congress defeat there, the TMC wants to take advantage of that in the region. Till now, the Congress is a major force in this region which sends 25 Members of Parliament to the Lok Sabha. It used to be the party’s bastion. Therefore, the party had appointed Ajoy Kumar, as in charge of the Northeastern states, as he had a sense of politics in the region. But we have to wait to see how things transpire in the coming months. The Congress had tried to organise the seven states through the North East Congress Coordination Committee (NECCC) which is a forum for the Congress leaders of the Northeast. But that didn’t succeed. We have to see how the INC counters the threat from the TMC.”

The Meghalaya unit of the Congress has been divided since the appointment of Shillong MP Vincent H. Pala as its president. The dissident camp is led by Mukul Sagma. There was speculation that Sagma was in touch with the Trinamool Congress and was about to join it along with a dozen Congress MLAs. In the Assam unit too, a senior leader and former Congress Mahila Morcha president, Sushmita Dev left the party and joined the TMC.

In the Northeast, the Congress was in power in five states till 2016. Tripura was ruled by the Left Front government. However, after the 2016 debacle in Assam, the Northeast slipped away from the Congress. The BJP promoted a North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), a forum of non-Congress regional parties that later formed government in Manipur, decimated the Left Front in Tripura and formed governments in Mizoram and Nagaland.

Congress leaders were hoping that if the party returned to power in Assam, that would help create an environment that would make them win back the entire Northeast. But that didn’t happen and the party lost Assam in the 2021 Assembly elections. Lal Thanhawla, Mizoram Congress president said: “Assam is the gateway of the Northeast. We were very much hopeful that we would form the government there. But despite fighting very hard we lost. But we increased our numbers in the state. This has energized the cadre across the region. With the high command giving special focus to the region, I am very much hopeful that the golden days of Congress will return soon. As far as the TMC is concerned, it is not a force at all. It is a regional party of one state. They cannot grow here.”