The Bharatiya Janata Party wrested on Saturday the Bengali-dominated Tripura from the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front, by winning—with its alliance partner IPFT—43 of the 59 seats that went to the polls, ending 25 years of unstinted Left rule. In Nagaland and Meghalaya as well, likely post-poll alliances may see BJP-assisted governments being formed.
This was in keeping with the NewsX-Jan ki Baat exit poll of 27 February, which predicted that the tally of BJP seats would be in the range of 35 to 45. The Pradip Bhandari-led team stayed for a considerable period of time in Tripura, covering all its constituencies, getting a fair enough idea of the inclination of the electorate. In Meghalaya and Nagaland, too, the results have been quite close to the respective predictions.
The biggest news from the Northeast is the end of the communist rule in Tripura, the hype surrounding the “austere” lifestyle of Chief Minister Manik Sarkar notwithstanding. The people of Tripura had had enough of underdevelopment of infrastructure, unemployment of the people in general and a life shorn of dignity for the native tribes in particular. The communists’ carrot-and-stick formula, wherein the voters would be rewarded with Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) contracts if identified as CPM’s voters and punished by way of routine harassments in the neighbourhood on being identified as challengers, failed.
The economically backward state will now hope for an influx of industries, based on the BJP’s promise of earmarking areas as special economic zones. The Deb Barmans, Noatias, Morasinghs et al, so far leading lives of abject penury with primitive means of livelihood such as collecting rubber tree twigs for a living, will expect an autonomous tribal council along the lines of Gorkhaland in West Bengal. This was another pledge in the BJP manifesto. And the former voters of the Indian National Congress (INC), who had been tortured for defying the communist rulers since the collapse of the Samir Ranjan Barman government in March 1993, will expect the BJP to institute an inquiry into the atrocities, followed by a legal process seeking to punish the perpetrators of violence.
Even if the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP)-BJP alliance ends as a close runner-up in Nagaland with 27 seats, defections can be expected from the ruling, faction-ridden Naga People’s Front (NPF)-led coalition, which won 29. This, given the fact that Nagaland is among the states of the Northeast that see benefits in aligning with the party ruling at the Centre. It helps them make the Union government loosen its purse strings—for both the right (development) and wrong (embezzlement) reasons. A faction of the NPF is bound to defect to the BJP-led alliance if no coalition gets a simple majority.
As a party that fashions itself as the sole nationalist political organisation in the country, the BJP had to withdraw from the state-wide consensus of boycotting the Nagaland Assembly election. It followed a furore among the party’s supporters from across the country, who were dismayed at the previous decision. The boycott would have given a fillip to the separatist forces in the state. Ending the tie-up with Chief Minister T.R. Zeliang of NPF and going with his archrival Neiphiu Rio of NDPP have proved wise decisions as well. Now under pressure, thanks to the neck-and-neck fight, Zeliang says, “We welcome the BJP if they want to be part of the government.” Either with the NDPP and a faction of the NPF or with an intact NPF, therefore, this Northeast state will retain its saffron hue.
It looks unlikely that the Congress will cross the halfway mark in Meghalaya. On its own it won 21 seats in this 60-member Assembly. The party’s bigwigs were rushed to Shillong on Saturday perhaps to engineer a BJP-kind of Manipuri act. This state is living the legacy of former Lok Sabha Speaker who had first rebelled in the Congress and finally revolted in the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) as well—the late Purno Agitok Sangma. Conrad Sangma’s National People’s Party is not known to be friendly with the BJP merely for the sake of being a challenger. His single largest party lives by the ideals of the man who had put his foot down on the question of a person of foreign origin leading the country, but who was let down by the NCP, which went on to defeat the purpose of the nationalistic rebellion by becoming an ally of the Congress.
Much has been made of the communal appeal of an archbishop not to let the BJP spread its footprint across the nation, which might have been a sentiment shared by the Christians of Nagaland and Meghalaya. What the political commentators miss is the fact that regional identities and local dynamics play a bigger role in states like Meghalaya and Nagaland. In any event, Hindutva agendas such as gauraksha (cow protection) were never part of the BJP’s official programme; some Hindu right wing groups had, at best, got encouraged by the formation of a government of the Sangh Parivar at the Centre. It was never difficult for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, strategist Ram Madhav and the Northeast expert, Himanta Biswa Sarma to chalk out a distinct plan for the region that would not carry the baggage that puts off non-vegetarian Christians. Even as the trends in these elections emerged, Sarma was closer to Shillong than the Congress contingent, which had to undertake a tortuous seven-hour journey at the eleventh hour to reach the capital of Meghalaya to save their government.
With the lotus blooming in 21 of the country’s 30 states, one expects the Narendra Modi government to usher in a paradigm shift in the tired, socialist governance set-up he has been working on, of course more efficiently than his predecessor, for the past four years. People still have high hopes in his delivery and yet they complain the promised achhe din (good days) have not arrived because a different ideology alone—and not a different style of work—makes citizens feel the difference. Particularly the Northeast must benefit from the plan to make the region India’s window to the South-East Asian countries, pursuant to the Union’s “Look East” policy. Nationally, the incidents of discrimination against the indigenous people of the region in cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru etc, must be dealt with in a no-nonsense manner.
Finally, the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh should chalk out a strategy to end the alienation of those who set the Christian narrative in the country, as that has international implications. Despite the merits of the Hindu grouse of “soul harvesting” by some Western sponsors of evangelists, the current Union government cannot afford a two-front war, where both the Islamic and Christian worlds are hostile to it, when, on a macro level, it is Samuel P Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations.
Surajit Dasgupta is the chief editor of Sirf News (http://www.sirfnews.com)