Agartala/Guwahati, March 19 (IANS): With regional parties failing to prove themselves in the northeast, both the Congress and the BJP have launched their best efforts to capture all 25 seats in the eight states of the region. However, development is a key issue in the region this time, overlooking the decades-old insurgency, experts say.
"People of the northeast want to forget about militancy. The region has diverse ethnic groups, languages and religions. Political parties have to be familiar with these issues during this election too," said Nani Gopal Mahanta, a professor of political science at Gauhati University and a well-known political analyst.
"In Assam, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress have almost identical chances in at least 6-7 of the 14 seats. But in the other states, the Congress is ahead of the BJP. Regional parties have become insignificant this time," Mahanta told IANS.
With a population of over 45 million, the eight states comprising Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Tripura, Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram and Sikkim, have 27 million eligible voters for the general elections.
"Six to seven percent vote swing on the basis of religion or ethnicity would be a factor for both Congress and BJP," he said. The Muslim community in the northeast, especially in Assam (33 percent of the population), would have its own impact.
Unlike in the 2009 polls, there is no pre-poll alliance this time between the BJP and the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP).
The AGP, which ruled Assam for two terms - 1985-1990 and 1996-2001 - has been suffering due to splits by senior leaders, many of whom left the party to join other political parties including the BJP.
Of the 25 seats in the region, 14 are in Assam, two each in Tripura, Meghalaya, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh and one each in Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim. Congress secured 13 seats across the region in the 2009 polls.
While the BJP got four seats in Assam, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) got two seats in Tripura, Nationalist Congress Party secured one seat in Meghalaya, while the AGP, All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), Bodoland Peoples Front (BPF) and Naga People's Front (NPF) bagged one seat each.
Congress is in power in Manipur, Mizoram, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya, the CPI-M led Left Front rules Tripura, the NPF-led Democratic Alliance in Nagaland and the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) rules in Sikkim.
Of the 566 legislators in the eight states, BJP has five members in Assam, three in Arunachal Pradesh and one in Nagaland.
"Since insurgency has been tamed to a large extent, economic development and backwardness has replaced the militancy issue this time," said political analyst Tapas Dey, who toured the region extensively in recent weeks.
"The five-decade-old insurgency is no longer an election issue. People want development and welfare, education, high-quality health services and sanitation," Dey, also an author and columnist, told IANS.
Congress and BJP leaders say they will capture the maximum seats this time too.
S.S. Ahluwalia, the BJP's national vice president and party in-charge of northeast, said: "During the National Democratic Alliance regime headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a separate union ministry, DoNER (Development of North Eastern Region), was set up and the 'Look-East policy' was launched to promote the region."
"But the Congress-led government did not utilise the ministry for the development of the region," he told IANS.
Ahluwalia, who is contesting from Darjeeling in West Bengal, said many projects related to railways, roads and bridges launched by the NDA government have been put on hold.
"When Narendra Modi visited the northeast twice for campaigns, we received huge public response, brightening our party's prospects in the elections," he said.
However, rubbishing the BJP's claim, Congress leader Ratan Lal Nath said his party would show their best results this time, as state governments of the Congress have performed well in five of the states.
"The BJP's tally would be zero and Congress would get at least 20 out of 25 seats. This is 1,000 percent sure," Nath told IANS.