Web Exclusive: Battleground Tripura

A Political Dawn in the Northeast

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Organizational works pays off for the BJP

As expected the elections in Northeast India have panned out well for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In Tripura, the party has ousted the Communist Party of India (Marxist) that ruled the state for a quarter century. In Nagaland, the BJP—along with its partner Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP)—is within a striking distance of forming a government. Even in Meghalaya where the BJP is not in a strong position, the Congress party has rushed its political managers to ensure that things don’t get out of hand. The Congress is much ahead of the BJP in Meghalaya.

Three factors are clearly visibly at work in the region. One, the BJP’s organizational ability is unmatched when compared with its rival national-level party, the Congress. In Tripura, the Congress has drawn a blank despite a long-term presence in the state. In terms of vote share, the slide of the Congress from the election in 2013 to the one now is nothing short of a disaster. In contrast, the BJP entered the state just two years earlier and had to stitch its organizational presence from scratch. Two, electoral fights in the region are less about religion and more about moving these states forward. Nagaland and Meghalaya are Christian-dominated states where the Church is an active political participant and has been opposed to BJP’s entry. In both states, BJP has made headway not on the basis of religion but by its ability to knit alliances and give a positive programmatic vision. Three, unlike the past, when the Congress or other alliances were in power in New Delhi, this time a concerted political effort has been made to link Northeastern states with other, so-called “major” states. In effect, the much-needed “mainstreaming” of the Northeast is paying dividends to the BJP.

With the exception of Tripura, the two other states are politically volatile and are hard to govern. Meghalaya is especially prone to splits, re-combinations and re-splits of existing political formations. Matters are not so different in the Nagaland. In Tripura, which has seen much greater stability, the results of continuous Left rule have led to a different set of problems: there has been “egalitarian” government of sorts but with a very small pie to distribute, leading to an economic and developmental stasis that is characteristic of states under rule by Left parties. Viewed together, the three states present a picture of economic backwardness. It is not surprising that BJP’s developmental message has clicked there.

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