Painting it saffron: How the BJP is making inroads into the Northeast | assembly-elections | Hindustan Times
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Painting it saffron: How the BJP is making inroads into the Northeast

After Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, the BJP has expanded its foray into the Northeast by forming a government in Manipur with its allies. However, it is not resting on its laurels just yet.

assembly elections Updated: Mar 24, 2017 12:18 IST
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
The BJP has shown expediency in preparing for the next round of elections in the Northeast.
The BJP has shown expediency in preparing for the next round of elections in the Northeast.(Sachin Saini/HT File Photo)

After Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, the BJP has expanded its foray into the Northeast by forming a government in Manipur with its allies. However, it is not resting on its laurels just yet.

A day before the results for the Manipur assembly polls were announced, party leaders held a protest rally in Tripura – which goes to the polls in early 2018 along with Meghalaya and Nagaland. The Mizoram polls are scheduled for 2018.

The expediency being shown by the party in preparing for the next round of elections in the Northeast is a statement of its intent to break into territory that has remained unfamiliar – even unwelcome – since long.

To guide the BJP’s procession into the remaining North Eastern states, the Sangh is playing charioteer because the party has little support on the ground.

The strategically sensitive region, which shares its borders with China, Myanmar and Bangladesh, has been of interest to the RSS for ages. Over the years, the Sangh – through its many affiliates such as the Vanvasi Kalyan ashram – has been making inroads in the tribal belts.

A man listens during a BJP election rally at Wangkhem village in Thoubal district, Manipur. (AFP Photo)

One of the more compelling reasons for the Sangh’s outreach is the need to curb the expansion of the Church. It also sees these states as buffers against aggression from neighbouring countries, and wants to shield the indigenous people from “foreign influence”.

Setting up the North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) was a masterstroke for the party. The coalition, formed in 2016 with regional players such as the Naga People’s Front, Sikkim Democratic Front and Asom Gana Parishad, helped the BJP edge its way into the Northeast.

In the forthcoming polls in this region, the BJP will have to deal with issues such as negligible ground support, dealing with insurgents and underground groups, and resistance from regional governments and satraps to emerge victorious. The party will also have to dispel fears that it will implement the Hindutva agenda in the region, once it comes to power.

Here’s a look at how the BJP managed to win power in some Northeastern states, and is trying to gain a foothold in others.

Assam

In Assam, the RSS pulled out all stops to help the BJP dislodge the Congress government and take over its reins. It successfully raised the bogie of unwelcome Bangladeshi intruders squatting in Assam, taking away resources meant for the locals.

The BJP followed up by doing the political arithmetic. It appointed Hemanta Biswa Sharma – a Congress heavyweight – as the NEDA convenor, upped the stature of the Asom Gana Parishad, and appointed its state president, Sarbananda Sonowal, as the chief minister.

Arunachal Pradesh

In this state, the RSS is flagging concerns of conversion and demographic imbalance. Incidentally, while it supports a beef ban across the board, Sangh functionaries in the state prefer to maintain a diplomatic silence on the issue. In Arunachal Pradesh, BJP successfully adopted a ‘backdoor’ method to form its own government after getting chief minister Pema Khandu and 33 legislators to switch sides.

Tripura

In this hill-state, the BJP is training its guns at the Manik Sarkar-led Left government. BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav told HT that the party has already set in motion its strategy to bag more seats in the region. The BJP is deterred neither by the Sarkar’s government’s influence over the state populace nor the chief minister’s “clean” image. “We will prove both these claims wrong,” said Madhav, who is credited with the party’s success in Assam and Manipur -- besides stitching together a difficult alliance with the PDP in Jammu and Kashmir.

Manipur

The party is buoyed by its performance in this state, where it bagged 21 of 40 assembly seats on its own and increased its vote share from 2.12% in 2012 to 36.3%. With the allies bagging another nine, the party is confident of coming to power in the state.

The BJP’s poll plank ranged from issues concerning territorial integrity to more basic problems like water and power.

Newly sworn-in Manipur CM Nongthombam Biren Singh with Prakash Javadekar and state BJP president Vihabananda, in Imphal. (PTI File Photo)

Meghalaya

The BJP has no mass support in Meghalaya either, but here also it will rely on the footwork of Sangh soldiers and NEDA ties with parties such as the National People’s Party and United Democratic Party. “Our brief to the BJP is to focus on local elections,” said a Sangh functionary.

In Meghalaya, the party will need a unique campaign strategy to negotiate its ways through the complex division of Garos, Khasis and Pnars.

Nagaland

“A tricky state for the BJP,” is how a Sangh functionary in the state describes Nagaland. The BJP is making overtures towards the Naga people, but the party still remains lost in the woods. Here, the BJP is trying hard to erase the distance between the Centre and the state. The party’s focus in this insurgency-affected state will be on development.

Mizoram

This Christian-dominated state will not be a cakewalk for the party. Allies such as the Mizo National Front apart, the party is up against a Congress government for the second consecutive term. The BJP’s focus in Mizoram will be on development. “We will criticise the present administration’s poor scorecard on healthcare, education, jobs and connectivity – comparing it with BJP-ruled states,” said a party functionary.