In the last couple of years, BJP has been trying to further its electoral forays into the North East. And after its massive win in Assam, it has been able to form governments in Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. As three more northeastern states head to polls – Tripura on 18 February, Meghalaya and Nagaland on 27 February – the party will once again look to build on its earlier gains in the region.
BJP general secretary Ram Madhav spoke to Firstpost about the party's electoral strategy to dispel the stronghold of the Left in Tripura, the Naga Peace Accord, the impact of the Centre's policies on the elections, the party's alliance with the newly-formed NDPP in Nagaland, and on establishing the saffron party as a viable alternative in the region.
Edited excerpts follow:
How is BJP's election strategy in Tripura different from other states?
Each state will have a specific strategy, which is unique to that state. Tripura is a very special case. Here, a Communist government has been in place for the last 25 years. The communists have penetrated into different administrative systems in the state, including police and civil administration etc. In Tripura, therefore, we needed to certainly deploy a different strategy to take on the organisational might of the communists. Obviously, such a strategy is never discussed in detail in the media.
Why do you think there are political killings in the state? Is there a connection between the Communist ideology and such murders?
Absolutely. Number one is that the Communist ideology itself sanctions and validates political violence. For them, violence is a part of their political ideology. Wherever communism is in power, they are the most violent government, that is experienced the world over. In India also, we have seen what is happening in Kerala now, how a Congress karyakarta (worker) was murdered recently before that RSS karyakartas were murdered.
It's a part of their political culture and Tripura is one of the worst cases of political violence by the Marxist party. In the last two months, nine BJP cadres have been murdered. Not a single day passes without at least a couple of incidents of political violence being indulged in by the Marxist goondas (thugs), in different parts of the state. Political violence is integral to their politicking.
How did you reconcile the interests of different communities in the North East, especially in Tripura between Bengalis and the Tribals?
The Bengali-Tribal divide was created by the CPM, for its narrow political ends. BJP is committed to ending this divide. We are all one state (Tripura) and we are all one people (of Tripura). We are committed to unity and integrity of the state. On that basis, we joined hands with a local tribal party, the Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT).
We will ensure that the fruits of development reach all sections of the society. We do not divide or discriminate on the basis of tribal identifies or otherwise. We assure that the cultural, social and economic problems of the tribals will be addressed while creating the spirit of one Tripura and a united Tripura.
Do you think the policies of the Union Government will have an impact on upcoming state elections?
Definitely, one of the major reasons for people turning to BJP in Tripura and looking up to the BJP with hope is because of the progressive and development-focused programs of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the last three-four years. People see that while Modiji is committed to helping the ordinary and poor people of the country, here is a government in Tripura which only wants their votes, not their development.
So, people see the difference between how Marxist and the Left front rule is and how Modiji has done so much in just four years' time. That is definitely a major factor in Tripura... in people's faith turning towards the BJP.
Why do you think Communist leaders like Manik Sarkar, even while being involved in scams like Rose valley, are able to portray a 'clean' image?
That image is only a carefully cultivated false image. It's a façade – cultivated by friends and well-wishers in the media and public life, outside Tripura. In Tripura, people have experienced a different face of the CPM – the most violent face, the most oppressive face and the most corrupt face. Sarkar's government can be described in three words – hinsachari, atyachari, bhrashtachari.
The kind of a government he ran is a violent, oppressive and corrupt government. People experienced it but they didn't have any alternative in the last 20 years. Today, the BJP stands before them as a viable, good and a strong alternative.
Has the BJP been able to build a narrative which resonates with the people as a viable alternative to the Left?
Of course, our slogan is 'chalo-paltai', meaning, come let us overturn this government and bring a change. That itself has spread like wildfire in the state. Today, it's on the lips of almost every citizen in Tripura. We gave the assurance of peace, progress and good governance to the people. They have been experiencing a violent, oppressive and a corrupt regime for all these years. We have promised them peace, development and good governance.
How do you think that the Left has been able to hold onto Tripura for so long?
Firstly, because of their oppressive and violent political tactics. Fear and intimidation are one of the major factors behind their ability to hang on to power. Secondly, manipulations in the electioneering. They know how to manipulate the activity on the polling day on a given polling booth. They have mastered the art of manipulation of elections.
Congress was indulging in shadow boxing. They were never given any serious fight here because for them to have CPM on their side in Delhi was more important than defeating CPM here. So, there was no real challenge to CPM thus far, until BJP came onto the scene about two years ago.
Do you think of the Congress as an electoral player in Tripura or Meghalaya this time?
Congress is fighting this election as a proxy to CPM. In fact, CPM had almost passed a resolution, stating that they and Congress will fight together in order to stall the BJP. For some internal reason, they couldn't pass it. Nevertheless, there is a clandestine understanding between the two parties.
Former chief minister of Assam from Congress has already said that there is no hope for Congress in Tripura, yet they are contesting on all the seats in order to divide the non-CPM votes. This is the clandestine understanding between the two. In Meghalaya also, there is a strong anti-Congress sentiment. We can assure that post-election, we will be able to put in place a non-Congress government in the state.
While the BJP has a working arrangement with NDPP in Nagaland, it's hard to discern an ideological connection between the two parties. How will your party reconcile its core ideology with the Christian principles that dominate the state? I ask this in context of the Baptist Council's recent statement.
In Nagaland, we have been in power as partners with another regional party, the Naga People's Front (NPF). There was never any confusion in the minds of the people of Nagaland with respect to the BJP's commitment of respect for all. There was never any doubt about BJP's credentials as a party respecting all faiths. This time, for certain electoral reasons, we are not contesting the elections in alliance with the NPF and have chosen to contest with another regional party, the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP).
In any case, our appeal to the people of Nagaland is that the BJP is a party that has a commitment to pluralism in this country and respect for all faiths. The BJP in Nagaland will be run by people of Nagaland, who happen to be in large numbers, profess the local faith and local religion. So, this propaganda that the BJP will be against a particular religion is certainly and utterly baseless. This is what we have conveyed to the people of Nagaland.
The Naga Accord was announced with much fanfare in 2015, but the Opposition has maintained throughout that its contents are hidden from view and that nothing has come of it. What is the status of the Accord? Do you see this as a sticking point pre and post-election? What are the BJP's plans as far as peace with the various factions is concerned?Firstly, one has to be clear on what was signed in 2015, it's called a framework agreement. It's not an accord, it's not even a full agreement. It's actually a one-page document, stating a certain specific intention to resolve the problem quickly. It's basically an expression of intent on both sides, stating that let's work together and come to a resolution quickly.
Once the framework agreement was agreed to, both sides started serious negotiations. The Government of India and various Naga groups have started negotiations. In less than two years' time, they have made enormous progress in terms of finding a permanent solution to the Naga problem.
Now, there are a few issues that still need to be discussed with the Naga groups and also a few others, who will be impacted by certain aspects of the agreement. This process needs a little time, but we are confident and we are committed to bringing an early end to the Naga peace talks and finding an amicable settlement and agreement that is acceptable to all the concerned parties. We are sure that this will happen very soon.
The author tweets @raghavwrong
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Updated Date: Feb 15, 2018 13:38:42 IST