News analysis | Not just a numbers game for the BJP in the northeast

Victories in these states, BJP leaders say, will help them with the perception that they have a wider acceptability beyond the Hindu community, and will be helpful in expansion plans in other states.

Updated - March 03, 2023 12:17 pm IST

Published - March 02, 2023 05:05 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Bharatiya Janata Party supporters celebrate the party’s decisive lead in Tripura Assembly elections, outside the party office in Kolkata, March. 2, 2023.

Bharatiya Janata Party supporters celebrate the party’s decisive lead in Tripura Assembly elections, outside the party office in Kolkata, March. 2, 2023. | Photo Credit: PTI

In the ideological sense, the impact of the BJP’s performance in Assembly polls in Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland is considered by the party as far more than a numbers game, as it aids the perception of the party being more than one limited to the Hindi heartland, capable of registering victories in minority dominated states and on a developmental plank.

Senior BJP leaders have attributed the party’s performance, in the first round of Assembly polls in a year which will see nine Assembly polls - in Karnataka, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh - to Prime Minister Modi’s outreach to North Eastern state, and focus on them. “Winning the first time around can be considered a fluke, or even that these states often vote alongside whoever occupies the Central government, but these are repeat victories and are clearly a positive affirmation of the North East policy of Prime Minister Modi and the BJP’s concentration on these state,” said a senior office bearer of the BJP.

Development Plank

Prime Minister Modi, in the last eight years, has travelled to North Eastern states more than 51 times. He also asked his council of ministers to travel often, with officials in tow, for frequent reviews of developmental projects pertaining to their departments in these states with 74 ministers in his government clocking over 400 visits over the years.

“Infrastructure projects like rail connectivity, for example, for the first time ever Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura have been brought onto the railway map of India, the conversion of all rail networks in the North East to broad gauge, integrating it fully into railway networks, alongside road projects worth over ₹1.06 lakh crore have been commissioned, all of this stacks up,” said a source.

Ideological Project

It is however, also an ideological project of the BJP to make inroads into the NorthEastern states, especially since a few of them like Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram have a dominant Christian and tribal population. In the case of Tripura, the ideological imperative had been to win in a state where it directly faces off against the Left Front, the other end of the ideological spectrum from itself. The importance given to these states is clear from the fact that Union Home Minister Amit Shah alone undertook 16 rallies and two road shows in these three states, the special position of Tripura in these plans was underscored by the fact that 11 of these rallies and one road show was in that state.

The party has been on the project since 2014, when then party general secretary Ram Madhav was given the charge and made the first inroads into these states, the formation of the North Eastern Democratic Alliance (NEDA) under Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, has also been a game changer.

“Meghalaya and Nagaland are states with a majority Christian population and while it has been an uphill task for us, we are very happy with the results. Party workers have said that they have faced resistance among people who have seen BJP’s or Sangh Parivar’s objections to beef eating etc, when we would go to talk to people, they would flash their Whatsapp messages on BJP on beef, which is why our Meghalaya president Ernest Mawrie came out with that statement on beef,” he said.

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Mr. Mawrie had, in the midst of the Assembly campaign said: “I cannot make a statement on the resolution adopted by other states. We are in Meghalaya, everybody eats beef, and there is no restriction. Yes, I eat beef too. There is no ban in Meghalaya. It is the lifestyle of the people, no one can stop it.”

Victories in these states, BJP leaders say, will help them with the perception that they have a wider acceptability beyond the Hindu community, and will be helpful in expansion plans in other states. “Its a bit like what Manohar Parrikar managed in Goa in 2012, when Christians in the state also voted BJP to vote out a corrupt government,” said the source.

All these are of course very optimistic views, a political project is always, however, a work in progress and the BJP knows it. But for on Thursday, the BJP was on a celebratory high.

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