Sunday, 04 March 2018 | M Madhusudan | New Delhi-
The North-East on Saturday effectively became a saffron citadel. In what seemed an impossible feat for it till even a couple of years ago, the BJP ended the 25-year rule of the CPI (M) in Tripura ousting the deeply-entrenched Left dispensation from its second-last bastion.
The BJP also looked set to form the Government in Nagaland with either of its allies at the Centre or the State even as it exuded confidence of wresting Meghalaya from the Congress despite the latter emerging as the single largest party there.
‘Cholo Paltai’ (let’s change) was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s clarion call to voters in Tripura as he exhorted them to vote out the two-decade-old Manik Sarkar regime. The voters did just that. They voted overwhelmingly for the BJP to replace what Modi termed was the “wrong Manik” with “HIRA” which, he said, stood for “Highway, I-ways, Roadways and Airways”.
From being a negligible force five years ago when it witnessed all its candidates, barring one, lose their deposits and manage just 1.3 per cent vote share to now cornering around 50 per cent votes along with its allies and romping home to power with a brute majority of 43 seats in the 60-member Assembly, the BJP’s feat in Tripura is undoubtedly mind-boggling.
The BJP would be calling the shots in seven of the eight North-Eastern States now — a trend that started with the party’s huge victory in Assam in 2016. It is, as a BJP leader put, also the fructification of the ambition of the combine of Modi and BJP president Amit Shah for the far-off region. Nationally, the BJP’s footprints have emphatically expanded to 21 of the 29. And if it manages Meghalaya also, the party would see itself ruling three-fourth of the country, literally.
Just as in Assam, the BJP’s juggernaut in Tripura rolled on well-oiled RSS machinery, laid out assiduously by the Sangh to match cadre-for-cadre with the CPI (M). It was aided ably by the BJP’s organisational pointsmen as also its Government at the Centre that focused on North-East as the ‘Gateway to India’. No wonder, Modi credited the “Shunya to Shikhar” journey to the BJP’s organisational strength and developmental agenda.
The BJP has done what the Trinamool Congress did to the CPI (M) in West Bengal some seven years ago. The loss of the CPI (M), battling strong anti-incumbency, in Tripura has left it with just Kerala even as the party remains split midway over whether to consider Congress a friend or a foe.
Ditto for the Congress. Its dilemma whether to take on the Left head on or go soft on it in view of the possibility of a likely tie-up with it for the next general elections cost it Tripura. The party with 37 per cent vote share in 2013 was left with just 2 per cent votes. Evidently, its entire vote-bank shifted to Congress.
But Congress has not only been blanked out in Tripura, it has met a similar fate in Nagaland, where the BJP has the unique choice of forming the Government with either its pre-poll ally in the State, NDPP, or going with its NDA partner at the Centre, NPF. While the Congress’ vote share declined from 25 per cent in 2013 to just 2 per cent now, the BJP’s increased from 1.8 per cent to 14.4 per cent. Its tally of seats too increased from one to 10 seats.
The real tussle will be in Meghalaya, though. Whether the Congress can latch on to the State and not lose out to the BJP despite emerging as the single largest party as it did in Manipur and Goa last year remains to be seen. The only State where it is in power in the North East is thus Mizoram, which too will go to polls later this year.
Yet again, former Congressman and now BJP’s key strategist Himanta Biswa Sarma was instrumental in ensuring the decline in the fortunes of its erstwhile party in the region. He has since been dispatched to Meghalaya to see that the BJP cobbles up a majority and prevents the Mukul Sangma-led Congress to retain power. The Congress, for its part, dispatched its senior leaders Ahmed Patel and Kamal Nath to Meghalaya to prevent a rerun of Manipur and Goa.
While the BJP’s success in the North East – which accounts for 25 Lok Sabha and 14 Rajya Sabha seats – could in no way be undermined, its real challenge will come in the months to come as key States of Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan (the latter three ruled by the BJP) are scheduled to go to polls ahead of the mega finals in 2019.
Modi had last year enlisted a statistics to point out how the BJP was in power in 19 States, which was one more than when Congress was at its peak under Indira Gandhi. With 21 States already in its kitty, it will be interesting to see if the BJP adds to its tally in the months to come, or lose some given that the Congress has shown a fighting intent in Gujarat and also in Rajasthan and MP.
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