By Arun Srivastava
Riding on the back of the regional forces in Meghalaya and Nagaland, the political ecosystem of the BJP has put its entire effort and resources into projecting Narendra Modi as the invincible leader and new face of the New India. The BJP megaphones in the media circuits are also trying to send across the message that the victory in Tripura assembly elections was the best model for electoral success.
Of the three northeastern states, the elections in Meghalaya and Nagaland were under critical watch from across the country, as the stance and approach of the electorates in these two states were completely unpredictable. However, the massive campaign that BJP unleashed in Tripura had aroused high level of curiosity, since Modi virtually staked his prestige on the final outcome. Modi visited the three states at least 40 times. His lieutenant Amit Shah literally camped here. Besides, almost all the BJP chief ministers descended in Tripura and addressed public rallies. There was no dearth of resources and manpower.
It would not be wrong to say that the party failed to gain as much leverage as it had wanted to. It could also not be claimed that BJP emphatically won the Tripura Assembly elections and the results underscored the continuity of momentum. The results, in fact, underlined that the party has lost its support base in the state, notwithstanding the RSS putting in its best efforts to mobilise and motivate people in support of the BJP. The saffron party’s seat tally came down from 36 five years ago to 32. A significant point of concern for the ruling party will be its vote share declining from 43.59 per cent to 38.97 per cent.
All the post-result exercise to project Modi’s image in the magnum size is an attempt to conceal the bitter fact. The election results are seldom analysed with some elements of ifs and buts, but it cannot be denied that the outcome might have been different if the Congress had not been as obstinate towards the TIPRA Motha.
The Tripura election result has one more important message for the BJP and especially for the opposition, that the tribals, not only in Tripura but also in other two states, no longer extended their wholehearted support to BJP. While the new entrant TIPRA Motha won 13 seats, the ruling party’s tribal ally Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) won just one constituency, down from eight the previous time.
The election results of Tripura send a candid message that the tribals do not endorse the politics of Modi and the RSS, in spite of his attempt to identify himself with their aspirations. They have come to know of his gimmicks and their designs. The Hindi-Hindu politics of RSS and BJP has scared them as it poses a distinct threat to their identity. Obviously in this backdrop, they are not willing to subscribe to his rhetoric of honouring the tribal izzat and prestige by installing Draupadi Murmu as the President. Ironically, the BJP lost eight Adivasi seats, which it had won in last election, to TIPRA. The BJP’s most prominent tribal face and Deputy Chief Minister Jishnu Dev Varma lost to his TIPRA Motha rival Subodh Deb Barma in Charilam constituency by 858 votes.
Modi’s assertion that BJP’s win in Tripura is peoples’ endorsement for progress and stability is simply a façade, a clever act to hide the truth. Though he also complemented the BJP karyakartas for their spectacular efforts at the grassroots, the fact was the internecine feud within the organisations prevented significant number of cadres in putting their best.
In 2018 elections, the BJP bagged 35 seats with a vote share of 43 percent and its ally IPFT bagged 8 seats with 7.38 percent. But this time their vote share has reduced to 40.23 percent – a downfall of 10.74 percentage points. Individually, the BJP contesting 55 seats – 4 seats more than last time – got a vote share of 38.97 percent while its ally IPFT got only 1.26 percent votes.
Tipra Motha chief, Pradyot Kishore Manikya Debbarma, reiterated: “They cannot ignore 35 per cent of the state population if they (BJP) want to develop Tripura. Our movement will continue within and outside the Assembly.”
In both the states, Nagaland and Meghalaya, BJP would be the junior partner. For the sake of having majority, the National People’s Party (NPP) in Meghalaya, which has emerged as the single-largest party in the state, has accepted the support of the BJP, but its leaders have abundantly made clear that the BJP must refrain from dictating terms. The NPP and the BJP ruled the state together for five years, but this time, the BJP contested the elections on its own and had pledged to finish off NPP. In Meghalaya, the NPP won 26 seats, short of the magic number 31. But its old ally, United Democratic Party (UDP), has almost doubled its tally of six seats it won in 2018.
In Meghalaya, too, the tribals and indigenous people have been quite hostile towards BJP. The reason was the consistent emphasis of its national leaders on imposing Uniform Civil Code (UCC), PFI ban, passing of the Cattle Protection Act, calling for specific policy measures for slowing down minority population growth, or bulldozing of “illegal” villages. These were the issues which forced the NPP to maintain distance from BJP. But compulsions of government formation has brought them together once more.
In Nagaland, the NDPP-BJP alliance increased its tally from 29 to 37 and is set to form the government. Neiphiu Rio will return as CM for a fifth term. The increase in the alliance’s tally is largely on account of the NDPP’s growth at the expense of the Naga People’s Front (NPF) that managed to win only two seats. The BJP — which contested 20 seats as part of the seat-sharing arrangement — won 12, the same as last time, and its vote share increased from 15.31 per cent to 18.8 per cent. Nevertheless, this increase is purely attributed to the ground work of RSS. It could succeed in its mission to polarise the communities. The tribal who have converted to Hindu religion rallied behind the BJP, but could not minimise the hold and influence of NDPP.
Highlighting that Christians were in majority in Nagaland and Meghalaya, Modi showcased the poll performance of the BJP in the two states as acceptance of the party by the minority community. BJP leaders attribute the victory to Modi’s pro-people and development agenda. They also claim that the victory in the northeastern states has been a ‘big message’ and it was a ‘prelude’ to what would happen in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
One thing is absolutely clear that the B JP would find going tough in Meghalaya and Nagaland. Neither the NDPP nor the NPP is willing to concede too much space to the BJP. The past experience has made them wise. NDPP general secretary Abu Metha has made it clear that party would have a “new approach” to government formation. It could try to leverage its increased seat count for a greater say in government formation. In the last government BJP’s Y Patton was deputy chief minister.
In the milieu of BJP leaders too busy with eulogizing Modi and projecting him as the New Avatar, one thing that has not been getting enough attention is the emergence of Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma as the most powerful leader of the NE region. This would no doubt create many problems for the RSS and BJP leaders, who have been working in the region for long, He is a go-getter and would not hesitate to override those working against him, whether outside or within the BJP-RSS ecosystem. He has emerged as the party’s dealmaker, flying every day to the three states of the northeast to take stock of the campaigning and finalising the strategy. It was he who brokered the deal in Nagaland.
Another matter of political irony is that most of the leaders who are in command of the politics in these states happen to be former Congress leaders. These are not blind bhakts of Hindutva, nor do they subscribe to the RSS ideology. Congress might not have suffered the humiliation, if the central leadership of the party had treaded cautiously. It was side-lining of the tallest leader Mukul Sangma and appointing Pala as the state party chief that forced Sangma to desert the party.
The obsession of the Congress and CPI(M) against Mamata Banerjee’s TMC was also visible in their attack against BJP. It would be wrong to say that they were not quite aggressive towards BJP, but somehow the TMC was their target. The Left-Congress alliance managed 14 seats. In 2018, the CPI(M) had won 16 seats when it contested the polls on its own while the Congress failed to open its account. Trinamool Congress (TMC), ran a high-intensity campaign but could not catch the imagination of the people, who perceived TMC as the party of outsiders. The party managed to win only five seats, with Mukul Sangma losing in one of the two seats he contested. (IPA Service)