Called the Land of Guns, Jeans and the Guitar—in an allusion to the incessant insurgency movements plaguing the region, a predominant love for Western culture and an abiding love for music—the prevailing flavour of the season has undoubtedly taken on a saffron hue in the largely mountainous region.
In effect, in the aftermath of the Assembly polls in Mizoram, it can be safely said that the BJP’s war-cry of a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ has found its fullest resonance in the North East where all the seven sister states now have a BJP government or a government where the BJP is a partner.
The first BJP state government that was ever set up in the North East was led by Gegong Apang in Arunachal Pradesh in 2003. But it was a short-lived one and Apang returned to the Congress fold the very next year.
And this time in Mizoram, the victorious Zoramthanga-led Mizo National Front (MNF), is a constituent of the North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) that has Assam minister and key BJP strategist Himanta Biswa Sarma as the convenor.
This scenario would have seemed a total impossibility till some decades ago. For a party pursuing an avowedly Hindutva agenda and usually identified with the trappings of all that is Brahmanical patriarchy, it was considered inconceivable that the saffron party would find such appeal in the North East.
Again in Tripura, it engaged, to good effect, in an ideological battle with the Left which was heavily burdened with anti-incumbency.
Consider the religious demography. Arunachal Pradesh is 29 percent Hindu, Assam has 61 percent Hindus, Manipur at 41 percent, Meghalaya 11.5 percent, Mizoram 2.75 percent, Nagaland 8.75 percent, while Tripura has 83.4 percent of its population professing Hinduism.
So, while Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, and Tripura have thrown up a BJP majority in the state assembly, Meghalaya, Nagaland and now Mizoram have a government that has the BJP as an ally.
So how has this been achieved?
The idea of a special thrust on the North East started a few decades ago when RSS cadres set up shop in remote areas of the region, especially in the states with substantial Hindu population to do the groundwork. The support base they built, brick by brick, has resulted in political dividends for the BJP, which used the goodwill generated to the hilt.
At the same time, the BJP has been careful not to staunchly propagate its core Hindu agenda items that may clash with the traditional indigenous and tribal beliefs, like beef ban for instance.
The BJP's North East-in-charge Ram Madhav has gone on record to say that his party "respected" the food habits, distinct culture and customs of the Mizos and their religion.
The next step was setting up the NEDA in May 2016. The combine can be best described as a BJP strategy to strike important alliances with smaller regional parties, an effort that seems to have paid off handsomely in a region that was long considered a Congress bastion.
At the same time, however, the BJP’s rise to power in the entire North East is not without its pitfalls.
It faces uncertain times in Assam after having angered large sections of Assamese society over the issue of the Citizenship Amendment Bill, as with lack of government action on the demand to grant Scheduled Tribe status to six indigenous communities.
With the Naga accord yet to fructify even after a grand announcement with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in attendance on 3 August, 2015, there is a feeling that the party has failed to deliver. With just a few months to go before the parliamentary elections in 2019, these are lessons that the saffron party will do well to imbibe.
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Updated Date: Dec 12, 2018 12:09:35 IST