Stakes are high for the Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of the counting of votes on Thursday for three state assembly polls, as the results will signal if it has deepened its roots in Tripura, a Left bastion captured by the party in 2018, and made further inroads in Meghalaya and Nagaland, or if the opposition has managed to dent its influence.
Among the three states, it is Tripura which promises to have more national resonance than the two others as traditional rivals Congress and the Left have joined hands for the first time to challenge the BJP in the election to the state's 60-member assembly.
In this battle among the national parties, it is the Pradyot Debbarma-led TIPRA Motha that has emerged as an X-factor as the sway of its founder, scion of erstwhile royalty, among a big section of the tribal population has disturbed conventional calculations, more so as the BJP and its ally Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT) had done well in the tribal region in 2018.
The BJP had won 36 seats and the IPFT eight last time. With the IPFT in decline following the death of its founder N C Debbarma, the burden of delivering a majority rests largely on the shoulders of the BJP while its two main rivals have united.
The BJP's stunning rise after having failed to win a single seat in 2013 to a majority on its own five years later by decimating the Left citadel of two decades was projected by the party as its ideological victory over its rivals, and a loss will be seen as a setback despite Tripura's relatively marginal influence on national politics.
While regional parties remain bigger players in both Meghalaya and Nagaland, the BJP ran a determined campaign with its bigwigs, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, in the states to expand its footprints.
For the first time, the BJP has fought on all 60 seats in Meghalaya and constantly targeted National People's Party leader and Chief Minister Conrad Sangma for running the "most corrupt" state government in the country.
The BJP was a partner in the state government but broke ties ahead of the polls. The party hopes to boost its strength from two in the assembly to emerge as a more powerful player if the verdict throws up a hung assembly like the last time.
Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, the BJP's pointsman for the northeast region, met Sangma after the polls in an indication that the two parties can do business together again.
An interesting sideshow to these election is the strong push by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress to make an impact in the polls to project itself as a stronger challenger to the BJP than the Congress, more so as the countdown to the next Lok Sabha polls in 2024 begins.
The Congress has also run an intensive campaign, with Rahul Gandhi holding a rally in Meghalaya, in its bid to claw back its lost influence in the states it once dominated.
In Nagaland, which had the unique feature of having no opposition as all parties with presence in the 60-member assembly backed the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party-led government, the BJP is again fighting the polls in alliance with the NDPP.
Sarma has claimed that there will be no hung assembly in Tripura, Nagaland or Meghalaya, as predicted in some exit polls, and the BJP-led NDA will form governments with absolute majority in all three northeastern states.