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BRP Bhaskar: What BJP’s NE win means
March 06, 2018
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Making a dramatic sweep, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party seized power in Tripura, one of the three small states in the predominantly tribal northeastern region which went to the polls last month. In the other two, Nagaland and Meghalaya, it is poised to share power under the leadership of regional parties.

It was a big leap forward for the party. In the outgoing Tripura and Meghalaya assemblies it was unrepresented. In Nagaland, it had a lone legislator. Its 2013 vote share was only 1.54 per cent in Tripura, 1.75 per cent in Nagaland and 1.27 per cent in Meghalaya. It soared to about 43 per cent in Tripura, 14.4 per cent in Nagaland and 9.6 per cent in Meghalaya.

The differing social and religious composition of the northeastern states marks them out from the rest of the country. Tripura has a Hindu majority but tribal communities constitute 30 per cent of its population. Thanks to early missionary activity among the tribes, 87.93 per cent of Nagaland’s population and 74.59 per cent of Meghalaya’s are Christian.

Mindful of the local sentiments, BJP campaigners affirmed the people’s right to eat beef. They also offered the minority community subsidy to undertake pilgrimage to Herusalem.

In a campaign speech Modi recalled his government had rescued Christian nurses from India who were trapped in a Middle East conflict zone.

The BJP’s victory in Tripura, where it had an alliance with the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), put to an end a quarter century of uninterrupted Left rule. The only state where the Left now has a stake in power is Kerala in the south. A front headed by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and another headed by the Congress have been alternating in power in the state since 1980.

The Naga People’s Front, which had been in power in Nagaland continuously since 2003, barring a short spell of President’s rule, was an ally of the BJP in the National Democratic Alliance. Sensing that the NPF was losing ground, the BJP dumped it on the eve of the election and aligned itself with the National Democratic Progressive Party, a newly formed regional outfit.

The NPF lost its majority, but with 27 seats in the new house it is still the largest party. The NDPP bagged 17 seats and the BJP 11, leaving the combine also short of the half-way mark. The outgoiung NPF Chief Minister TR Zeliang is making a bid to stay on but the BJP is sticking with the NDPP and it has sraked a claim to form the government.

In Meghalaya, which has been under Congress rule since 2008, the BJP was not able to make much headway. It won only two seats there.

Although the Congress lost ground, with 21 seats in the 60-member house, it remains the largest single party. The National People’s Party is close behind with 19 sears. Smaller parties and Independents hold the remaining 17 sears.

The situation in the state is similar to that in Goa and Manipur after last year’s assembly elections. The Congress was the largest party but it was beaten in the race for power by the BJP which quickly mobilised enough outside support and chalked up a majority.

Regional parties aspiring for power in sensitive border states find it prudent to go with the party ruling at the Centre. The BJP, therefore, experienced little difficulty in bringing Nagaland and Meghalaya under its belt.

Since it is not very familiar with the political landscape of the northeastern region, the BJP took the gyudance of serving and retired Intelligence officers to deal with the regional party leaders.

In view of the special characteristics of the northeastern states, it will be risky to make any prophecy about how the outcome of these elections will impact the assembly elections in the southern state of Karnataka and the Hindi states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, which go to the polls later this year, or the Lok Sabha elections due next year.

The BJP made a heavy investment in these small states for two reasons. It deemed it necessary to win or at least make inroads into the northeastern region, which had been inaccessible to it so far, to reinforce its credentials as a national party. The sparsely populated region has 25 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha. Any gains the party can make here will go some way to offset the losses it expects in the heartland states.

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 The author is a political analyst of reckoning

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