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Assembly election results: How backroom managers ensured the BJP surge in northeast

In Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya, the backroom managers of the BJP had to identify issues with a wider resonance on the ground as well as find the best means of communication .

india Updated: Mar 03, 2018 15:01 IST
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
In the three states of Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya, the backroom managers of the BJP had to  balance the traditional campaigning methods with the newer forms of canvassing.
In the three states of Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya, the backroom managers of the BJP had to balance the traditional campaigning methods with the newer forms of canvassing.(AFP file photo)

As it got down to working out the contours of a pre-poll alliance in Nagaland, the BJP leadership had a crisis on hand: representatives of 11 political parties, including two of its own, sided with the civil society groups and Naga Tribal Hohos’ call for putting on hold the assembly poll till a solution to the Naga issue was reached.

Within hours, the BJP backroom had put out a statement, announcing the removal of the two party representatives. Through the use of social media platforms and communication aids such as WhatsApp, it simultaneously relayed the message that negotiations to ensure that polling was done on February 27 were underway.

LIVE UPDATES: BJP rises in Tripura, gains in Nagaland, eyes to thwart Congress in Meghalaya

In the three states of Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya, the backroom managers had to identify issues on the ground that had a wider resonance as well as find the best means of communication for traction of those issues. They also had to balance the traditional campaigning methods with the newer forms of canvassing.

In the politically fragile state of Nagaland, where the BJP looks all set to form the government with its allies, the backroom warriors had to rely on ingenuity to counter questions about the details of the Nagaland Peace Framework that was signed in August 2015 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) to end the insurgency in the region.

Full coverage of Assembly election results

While union minister Kiren Rijiju was in charge of the state, the backroom was anchored by the BJP general secretary Ram Madhav’s aide and India Foundation senior fellow, Priyang Pandey.

From countering accusations of the RSS-BJP combine trying to impose a “Hindutva” agenda in the state to reaching out to various tribes and addressing their specific concerns, supplementing the campaigning on the ground with outreach through social media, Pandey and his team had their jobs cut out for them.

“We worked according to the plans drafted by the party brass led by the PM and it is heartening to see the hard work of the party members bear fruit,” Pandey said.

In neighbouring Tripura, where the contest was between the BJP and the incumbent CPI-M, the brief from PM Modi and party president, Amit Shah, to Rajat Sethi, who was steering the backroom was to “remove fear”.

Sethi, who has worked with Ram Madhav during the Assam and Manipur polls, says the backroom only executed the ideas of Modi and Shah.

“Under the guidance of Ram Madhavji and Amit Shahji, we implemented what the PM told us, which was to remove fear from people’s minds. There were so many violent attacks in the state against people opposing the communist ideology. We had to think of micro-strategies to help overcome that fear. In the end it has been a people’s fight,” Sethi said.

The BJP, which is backed by the widespread network of the RSS, in addition to its own well-structured cadre, buttresses its election campaigns through the extensive use of social media.

In Meghalaya, where internet penetration is limited, the party’s backroom managers had to rely on traditional methods of campaigning and bolster it with use of WhatsApp to connect with people at the booth level.

In the state in which the BJP in the last assembly poll managed only 1.27% of the votes and lost the deposit in all of the 13 seats that it contested, the focus was local issues.

“We followed PM Modi’s development agenda of Sabka saath, Sabka Vikas (With all, Development for All). We raised the issue of inadequate drinking water supply, poor state of roads and the need to bolster tourism for employment generation,” said Satyendra Tripathi, the organisational secretary in the state.