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BJP’s spectacular North East rise under Modi-Shah combine result of long-term planning, attention to detail

As the dust settles on Assembly elections in three northeastern states, the nature of the mandate is slowly becoming clear. BJP is set to end CPM’s 25-year rule in Tripura and rise to power with an overwhelming mandate. At the time of writing, the saffron unit and its allies won 44 seats, and CPM is down to 14 seats in the 59-seat Assembly.

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

The picture is less clear in other two states: Though the larger trend shows BJP might be forming a government in Nagaland with BJP and Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) nearing the 30-seat mark in 60-seat Assembly with Naga People’s Front (NPF) in close pursuit. Even if NPF inches past the BJP combine, the saffron unit has kept open the possibility of joining hands with the winners. In both these states, the Congress' tally is a big zero.

In Meghalaya, incumbent Congress looks set to emerge as the single largest party but with 21 seats it has fallen short of the 30-seat halfway mark. In a hung Assembly, anything is possible. So the larger picture is this: BJP may assume power in two of the three northeastern states, while the jury is still out on the third.

That this is a momentous shift in national politics is an understatement. Consider just two statistics: Before Narendra Modi and Amit Shah had moved centre stage of national politics, the Congress was in power in five of seven northeastern states. The BJP was nonexistent. Right now, the BJP and its allies are in power in five states (Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Nagaland, Sikkim) and the Congress has just two left in kitty: Mizoram and Meghalaya, with the fate of the latter still up in air.

Consider also that in 2013, BJP candidates in Tripura lost their deposits in 49 of 50 seats. Five years later, BJP is set to form the government with a 43 percent vote share. Statistics, it is said, conceal more than they reveal but in this case they capture accurately the extent of political realignment that has taken place. This realignment says volumes about BJP’s elasticity.

New BJP: A party mutated and redefined

Its expanding presence in the North East makes BJP a true pan-India party. The pan-national character of BJP’s rise under the Modi-Shah is reinforced by the fact that in order to make an impact in the North East, the BJP has had to mutate into a different beast, far removed from its Hindutva moorings. For BJP, this is more complicated than it appears. This mutation is easier for a party such as the Congress which can be different things to different social groups and communities but considerably tougher for a party such as the BJP which operates within an ideological straitjacket.

So the first battle that BJP had to win to get a foothold in the North East was against itself. It had to abandon its larger social projects that appeal to the Hindutva vote bank and adopt a posture that could be antithetical to its presence in the Hindi heartland.

The BJP was able to do that because Modi and Shah correctly recognised that BJP’s national footprint could only be expanded if it is ready to make compromises with its ideological moorings because India is not only a very large country, but also an incredible amalgamation of diverse groups, faiths and communities.

That five of the seven northeastern states are in BJP’s kitty is testament to the success of Modi’s strategy which started with the superannuation of BJP’s margdarshak ideologues.

Among the three northeastern states, the results are the most dramatic in Tripura. A deep dive into the nature of the mandate shows that BJP’s vote share has increased from 1.5 percent in 2013 to 43 percent in 2018. Though Modi sarkar upstaged 25-year-old Manik Sarkar in this border state, CPM still managed to retain 43 percent vote share. If that is the case, from where did BJP gain its share? The answer is Congress. The Grand Old Party suffered spectacular erosion in its fortunes with its vote share eroding from 36 percent in 2013 to less than two percent in 2018.

Ideally, Congress, with an already established voter base and party structure in Tripura, should have been the beneficiary of anti-incumbency sentiment. Instead, we saw BJP — which had zero presence in the state in terms of voter base or organisational strength — sweeping the anti-incumbency votes and tapping into the fatigue among new generation of voters who wanted someone new instead of the two-and-half-decade old Manik Sarkar government.

This miraculous rise was possible because of a two-pronged approach from BJP. On the one hand strategists Ram Madhav, Sunil Deodhar and Amit Shah spent years to develop grassroots structure and organisational strength aided by considerable help from RSS, and on the other hand the party’s top leadership led by Modi formulated policies such as Act East and National Bamboo Mission to offer opportunities that were denied to the youth.

If Congress had no strategy or leadership to offer, Left remained caught in a time warp. Whereas BJP moved with nimble-footed alacrity and unity of purpose, a laden-footed Left was busy fighting with itself between Karat line and Yechuri line and left everything at Sarkar’s door. As long as the Congress was its chief adversary, CPM could easily mask governance failure in Tripura with organisational strength. This became difficult when BJP replaced Congress because it could match CPM cadre for cadre and strength for strength in grassroots mobility.

To sum, the spectacular rise of BJP in North East is the result of long-term planning and minute attention to detail: Attributes that make it a formidable force in Indian politics.

Updated Date: Mar 03, 2018 21:42 PM

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