The impressive electoral success of the BJP in the northeastern states of Tripura and Nagaland are epoch making events to use the words of the Prime Minister. But it would be short-sighted to view these victories merely in electoral terms. They signify a change of far greater significance; an acceptance that goes beyond the approval of a political party. It is a visceral confirmation of the idea of a new empowered, developmentally oriented, nationalistic and a truly secular India that will carry one and all in its fold.
The BJP victory in Tripura is a gargantuan achievement. To unseat a party in power for 25 years, and dethrone a sitting Chief Minister of 20 years, is a commendable task. But when that success is mounted against the backdrop of a near political absence in the state (in the 2013 Assembly elections the BJP polled less than 2% of the votes and all but one of its 50 candidates lost their deposits) it can only be called a political earthquake of seismic proportions.
In what was the first direct electoral contest between the BJP and the Left, the BJP scored a total knockout. The leftist ideology stands discredited in a modern, resurgent India and has been relegated to the dustbin of Indian political history.
In contrast to the BJP’s development mantra, the only selling point that the CPM had to offer after 25 years was the austerity of Manik Sarkar; in today’s India making a virtue of poverty is no longer fashionable.
If Tripura signalled the imminent total eclipse of communism, an archaic fossilised concept of equalised poverty championed by the Left, the triumph of the BJP in Nagaland brought forward a cheer that was multi-dimensional and one that emphasised a shared interest between the BJP-led Centre and the Naga people: a yearning for peace and development that has far reaching ramifications for the integrity of the nation along with a negation of religious parochialism.
First, the success of the BJP and its local allies is testimony of the faith that the Nagas have reposed in the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi; it also symbolises a symbiotic political coexistence of national and native interests that augurs well for the resolution of the intractable Naga problem.
The BJP has always been sincere in its resolve vis-a-vis the Naga problem. In 2003, on a visit to Kohima, PM Atal Behari Vajpayee acknowledged “Nagaland’s unique identity” and the distinctness of the Naga political issue, a stance that instantly endeared him to Naga people. PM Modi has proceeded along the same lines. Soon after he assumed power, PM Modi worked out the Framework Agreement with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Issac-Muivah), which would be the basis of further talks.
At a pre-election rally on 22 February, PM Modi remarked: “The Constitution of India respects Indian diversity...The culture of Nagaland is our pride and we will do everything possible to preserve and promote it.” He went on to promise the Naga’s a solution in the near future. Further, he stated, “Our government is committed to ensure all-round development of the northeastern states…People of Nagaland have been striving for peace and stability. The development of Nagaland will gain speed only when we all move together.”
PM Modi’s words appear to have resonated with the aspirations of the people of Nagaland.
Lost in the subtext of this outsized victory in Nagaland is another significant occurrence: an unequivocal vindication of the BJP’s concept of “cultural nationalism”.
Nagaland is an overwhelmingly Christian state, with close to 90% Christians. In the run-up to the elections, the Nagaland Baptist Churches Council (NBCC), the apex body of Baptist churches launched a direct attack on the BJP and issued a diktat “not to surrender Christian principles and faith” for the sake of money and development into the hands of those who seek to “pierce the heart of Jesus Christ.” Despite the efforts of the Church to inject a communal element, the Nagas have exhibited maturity and eschewed religious xenophobia.
It is important at this juncture, to recall the philosophy of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya who remains the pre-eminent ideologue of the BJP: “What exactly was the stand taken by Panditiji about the so-called religious minorities? First of all, being a Hindu, he was never opposed to the Muslim or Christian mode of worship...How to worship God and which God to worship was each individual’s personal consideration...Your worshipping God…has nothing to do with nationalism…” (Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya: Ideology and Perception, Part 5. Suruchi Prakashan, New Delhi 2014).
On a more mundane basis, the elections in the Northeast are a snub to the BJP’s detractors who have tried to paint it as a Hindu party confined to the Hindi cow belt. Post this election, the BJP and its allies will control six of seven northeastern states; at the national level the BJP and its partners now rule 21 of 29 states.
With this election, the Northeast, traditionally an ignored frontier and a neglected hinterland has thrust itself into the limelight and the centre stage of India. The vote in the Northeast is a vote of optimism, a vote for development and a vote for the unalloyed concept of truly secular integrated India: an example that the rest of India must emulate.