NEW DELHI: A dash of anti-incumbency, a few strategic regional alliances and a huge outreach effort by parent organisation RSS have helped the BJP generate a saffron wave in the northeast, a region where it wasn’t even a bit player five years ago.
Results in three states’ Assembly polls – for which counting is taking place today – indicate the BJP will fell the mighty Left in Tripura, will pose a serious challenge to the ruling Naga People’s Front (NPF) thanks to allying with a significant regional player, and cause the Congress to lose Meghalaya despite it possibly winning the most number – though perhaps not a majority – of seats there.
In the process, the Congress may lose one more state in which it was in power (Meghalaya), the Left may be left with just one state in which it is in government (Kerala), and regional parties may become kingmakers of the kind they never expected to be.
Also in the process, the BJP, which already rules 19 of 29 states, looks set to extend its saffron blanket to the northeast, having already got Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh in its kitty.
“In a way the entire northeast is now with the BJP. Initially we used to say ‘Congress mukt Bharat’ now I think we can say ‘Vaampanth Mukt Bharat’ (Left-free India) also,” said union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad about counting trends favouring the BJP.
The BJP is reaping rich rewards for its massive push for infrastructure development – especially rail and road – in the northeast. And its ideological forbear, the RSS, is to be credited for making the people of the northeast aware of this BJP push, with its ‘mass contact’ initiative.
BJP’s tribal push in Tripura
In Tripura, where the BJP is emerging as a giant killer, it is leading in 38 of 59 seats where voting took place. The once mighty CPM is ahead in just 20 seats.
Here, the BJP’s alliance with the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) is proving to be a winning strategy as the tie-up helped outreach among the tribal community that makes up 31 percent of the state’s population.
The Left’s lack of coherence on how to deal with large-scale unemployment was a gap the BJP stepped into nicely. It clearly outlined employment opportunities, especially for the tribals, promising special economic zones for bamboo, textiles and food processing. The BJP also promised to set up an autonomous state council which would have access to funds directly from the Centre.
BJP may exploit Meghalaya’s fractured mandate
Congress president Rahul Gandhi attended a rock concert in Meghalaya last month, ahead of the Assembly polls there, but that doesn’t appear to have helped his party as anti-incumbency finally caught up with it.
The grand old party has been running Meghalaya since 2003, but in what may be a case of familiarity breeding contempt, infighting in the Nagaland Congress weakened its electoral chances considerably. In December, five MLAs, including former deputy chief minister Rowell Lyngdoh, resigned from the state Assembly.
That may explain why the Congress is ahead in a mere 23 of 59 seats for which polls were held. Sure, that puts it ahead of all the other parties, but a majority still some way away.
Stepping into the breach is a party formed by Congress rebels no less. The National People’s Party (NPP), formed in 2012 by expelled Congress stalwart PA Sangma, is proving to be a thorn in the Congress’s side.
The NPP is leading in 15 seats, the ‘Others’ category is ahead in 17 and the BJP is up in four seats. The ‘Others’ include the United Democratic Party (UDP) which is in an alliance with the Hill State People’s Democratic Party (HSPDP), and a few others. All these parties combined are ahead in 36 seats. To form the government, a party or alliance needs 31 seats.
Here’s where the UDP and HSPDP could step in to become kingmakers.
Some sources said the BJP is looking for a post poll alliance with UDP to form government in the state. That still may not give it a majority were both parties to win the seats they are leading in currently.
Meanwhile, Conrad Sangma of the NPP told reporters he’s open to an alliance with the BJP. That still won’t give it a majority were both parties to win the seats they are leading in currently.
The Congress has hurriedly dispatched senior leaders Ahmed Patel and Kamal Nath to Shillong to counter the BJP. They want to avoid a repeat of what happened in Manipur and Goa last year. In both these states’ Assembly elections, the Congress won the largest number of seats but were unable to forge alliances that would help get it to power.
Counting day may end with no clear winner and all signs point to a hung Assembly.
The BJP calls the potential mandate “a vote against the Congress”.
“The vote is basically against the Congress if you see the performance of other parties. Leaders will discuss if there can be possibility of a post poll alliance”, said Nalin Kohli, of the Meghalaya unit of the BJP.
BJP strategically allies in Nagaland
In Nagaland, the BJP took what seemed like an unusual decision ahead of Assembly polls, deciding to contest in alliance with the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP). This was unusual, because it is a partner in the current government with the Naga People’s Front (NPF).
Vote counting trends today might explain the BJP’s decision to not contest with the NPF. That’s because the BJP-NDPP alliance is ahead in 35 of the 59 assembly seats up for grabs. This is significant, because the NDPP is led by a man called “the tallest leader in Nagaland”, three-time former CM Neiphiu Rio.
The BJP’s already had a major breakthrough when Rio won unopposed from the Northern Angamai-II seat. Rio broke away from the ruling NPF to join the fledgling NDPP last month. He was the one who brokered the alliance with the BJP, which the latter it appears was wise to join.