Tripura 2018

Analysis: Advantage BJP in the Northeast

BJP supporters celebrate outside a counting centre in Agartala, Tripura.   | Photo Credit: Ritu Raj Konwar

During a meeting with the chief ministers of BJP-ruled States, in New Delhi on February 28, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had spoken of a possible victory in the Assembly polls in Tripura.

If that happens, he had said, the party must celebrate it as vigorously as they had done after the victory in Uttar Pradesh last year. The reason: it would be — if not in numbers but in terms of ideology — one of the biggest victories for the Sangh Parivar.

This was the first big direct electoral faceoff between the ideological Right and Left in India, with the BJP prevailing over the Left.

While the victory for the BJP in Tripura is sweet indeed, the situations in Nagaland and Meghalaya are still a bit touch and go at the time of writing. The ruling National People’s Front (NPF) in Nagaland has performed well, while the BJP and its new allies are not far behind (at the time of writing). In Meghalaya too, it appears to be a dead heat between the Congress and the BJP and its allies.

For the BJP, therefore, it is good news on all fronts to gain in areas they have not done well in previously and to further break the strait-jacket of being a northern, upper-caste Hindu party that can’t do well in areas where the demography is diverse. It has also demonstrated that it has the stomach for a fight and the will to break new ground.

In operational terms, it raises within the party organisation the stock of BJP general secretary Ram Madhav, and the clout of Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who fine-tuned the electoral machinery for this bout of polls.

The Congress, on its part, barely showed any enthusiasm in either Tripura or Nagaland. In fact, at least five of its 23 candidates in the latter State withdrew their nominations due to lack of funds and support from the headquarters in Delhi.

In Meghalaya, where it is in power, wisdom seems to have dawned, at least on Saturday morning, when a hung Assembly was predicted. The party despatched its most “pragmatic” leaders, Ahmed Patel, Kamal Nath and Mukul Wasnik, to shore up support for the party. Countering this, Mr. Sarma too left for Shillong to do the same for the NDA. The Congress had learnt its lessons from the Manipur and Goa Assembly results, where despite being within striking distance of forming the government, its tardy response allowed the BJP to cobble the numbers together first.

For the Left, it was a bad day indeed as its famed Tripura model and bastion collapsed under the saffron onslaught. The Left is now left with just the one State under its belt — Kerala. The predominance of the party in Kerala may lead to its own internal dynamics — the question of whether electoral cooperation with the Congress was desirable or not. For long the Congress had been its rival in Tripura, but the confusion within the Congress (which didn’t put up a fight in Tripura) and the Left nationally led to the transfer of anti-Left votes in the State to the BJP. Nearly 44 of the 60 candidates in the BJP list in Tripura were ex-Congressmen.

For 2019, the verdict has limited lessons. That hard work and early planning pay off big is, of course, one of them, but more importantly, it shows the BJP has its eye firmly on the 25 Lok Sabha seats from the north-eastern States and that its ambitions are grounded.

Finally, in the many States the Congress had counted on in the past, it is now the BJP which is the national party to beat.

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Printable version | May 5, 2021 5:50:13 AM |

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