By Arun Srivastava
The central leadership of the BJP has been focusing its attention on the north eastern states of the country since then coming into power of the Party in 2014 and in its expansionist efforts, the main vehicle has been the RSS. In the present phase of the assembly polls to the three states Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland, all senior leaders of the BJP have campaigned including the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Home Minister Amit Shah. The polls in Tripura took place on February 16, the polling in the other two states is scheduled on February 27.
North East is the most favourite destination for the RSS, and of course its political wing BJP. The party which till two decades ago was alien to the people of the region has emerged as the only ruling party all India party and has been virtually dictating the political discourse. Like any other state the expansion and growth of the BJP owes to the Congress factor. Former Assam Congress leader Himanta Biswa Sarma shifting his loyalty to the BJP helped the party open its account in the North East, after defeating the Congress in the Assam assembly election.
The wrong handling of the Assam movement launched by the All Assam Student Union by the Congress provided the much needed opportunity to the RSS to enter into the mainstream politics through L K Advani in early eighties. In recent times, riding on the crest of the election victory, taking inspiration from Assam win, the party managed to expand into Christian-dominated states like Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram besides the Hindu-dominated state of Tripura.
Apparently BJP’s slogan of Hindutva and communal politics preached by the Assam chief minister Himanta laid the foundation for ascendance. But it was the silent work and sustained campaign of converting tribals into Hindus by the RSS since India attained Independence that moulded its growth and provided the readymade forum to take on Congress.
After Tripura, the two other states that will go to election are Nagaland and Meghalaya. Both these states will have elections on February 27, to elect its 60 representatives. Meghalaya has a population of 29.67 lakh with 74.59 percent Christians. Hindus constitute 11.53 percent while 4.4 percent are Muslims. The Congress had won 29 seats in the 2013 state poll, the BJP had won none. The political spectrum changed fast in the state. RSS started operations in Meghalaya with setting first shakha in 1946 under Vasantrao Oak in Shillong. The state was then a part of Assam. It attained full statehood on 21 January, 1972.
After that they started working among Garos, Jaintias and Khasis. They also started programmes for the Hajong and Koch communities which are plain tribes. It was their social work that made them acceptable in the region. At present the RSS has 6000 swayamsevaks. This number is quite encouraging since the state is dominated by Christians. In 2016 they had held “Know RSS” programme which was attended by 300 teachers out of which 125 were Christians. At present, there are 46 shakha, 30 milan (weekly meet) and 35 mandali (monthly meet) in Meghalaya.
Winning the assembly election is issue of life and death more for RSS as BJP losing the election will hasten up the process of peoples’ action against the RSS. In Tripura also the emergence of BJP as the ruling party owes to the astonishing devotion of the RSS. The feedback from the think tank of the RSS helped erode the base of the CPI(M). Former Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar had successfully converted the state into a Left bastion initially but the CPM could not motivate the party cadres and leaders to listen to the peoples’ groaning. The long CPI(M) rule under Sarkar led to stagnation and acute unemployment. RSS exploited the situation and BJP came to power.
Although the Naga People’s Front (NPF) is an alliance partner of the BJP at the Centre, Manipur and in Nagaland, the BJP is yet to make any significant progress in this northeastern state. With 88 percent of its population being Christians the RSS has been finding a tough proposition to penetrate the region. The fact remains that religious equation has made the job far tougher for the RSS in its effort to gain a strong foothold in the state. As of today it has only two shakha running in Dimapur.
Though RSS has developed some amount of base in Meghalaya, it is unlikely that it is sufficient to ensure electoral victory to BJP in the state. RSS enabling the BJP to form North Eastern Democratic Alliance in 2016, a platform of non-Congress parties in the region with the avowed aim to keep the Congress out of power has not proved to be so effective.
Stakes are high for the BJP, but more than that of the RSS. BJP will lose the electoral battle, but the RSS will face erosion of its base. In early years the people of the region, especially the tribals and Christians had not perceived the RSS as a major threat. However the recent attack of the RSS and BJP on their social and cultural bases have scared them of losing their identity. Obviously for the RSS and BJP it is a do or die situation. They cannot lose the gains made during these years. The nature of the stakes gets reflected in party’s meticulous and long term planning for the forthcoming Assembly elections in Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland.
Though the North eastern states have emerged as a strong base of the RSS and BJP, the fact remains that it is still tough for emerge as the major ruling party in the region. The BJP had put a strong fight in Tripura and it is going to do the same in Nagaland and Meghalaya where the elections will be held on February 27. True enough the 2023 assembly polls in Northeast are a semifinal to 2024 general elections.
The alliance between the BJP and the National People’s Party (NPP) in Meghalaya has been quite fragile. The BJP had supported the Conrad Sangma-led NPP to form a government. But both are fighting separately. Meghalaya has a legacy of political instability with constant changing of parties by the MLAs. In the state BJP is not a major player. The Garo and Khasi division in the state affects the voting patterns. With about 75% population being Christian and about 12% population Hindu, the Congress has enjoyed a hold over the Shillong region and the NPP has had a hold over the Tura region.
In Nagaland, meanwhile, the key issue is peace and security. The maverick stand of the BJP has turned the regional outfits not to rely on it. The ruling Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) has been trying to negotiate a peace agreement with various militant groups, and the outcome of these negotiations will be a key factor in the elections. They nursed the impression that Union Home Minister Amit Shah would announce complete abrogation of the AFSPA (the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act). But it has not happened.
The state has also been facing demands from seven tribes for the creation of a separate “Frontier Nagaland” by carving out 16 districts. Recently, the central government held meetings with the Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation (ENPO) to find a way out of this problem.
As in Meghalaya, in Nagaland too, BJP is a secondary player. The National Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) of Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio depends upon help from the BJP to frustrate the efforts of Naga People’s Front (NPF). (IPA Service)