BJP Surge in North East India-Key Lessons

By Manoranjan Pegu

In the recently concluded Elections, the BJP won a decisive majority in Tripura, giving the party a stronger foothold in the Northeast. It is now the governing party in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and now Tripura. It also managed to become a part of the govt. in Meghalaya, giving the party an undisputed hold of the Northeastern states. Congress now remain only in Mizoram, while Sikkim is being ruled by Sikkim Democratic Front, since 1994. In Tripura, the BJP not only won against the five-term regime of the CPM in Tripura, but also managed to increase its vote share from 1% in the last election to 42.5%, which is an extraordinary feat. Till 2014, BJP even after persistent efforts was not able to make much inroads into northeastern politics. Come 4 years later, BJP is a force to be reckoned with. So what happened? How did they manage to do so? The meteoric rise of BJP in Northeast, I believe has very less to do with Modi persona (as many media houses would want us to believe in) but more to do with how the party devised its strategy and implemented in the region. The party had a definite plan, contextualized to every NE state, which it followed to come to power in each of it. Some key learnings (for me, at least) are:

  1. Individuals don’t win elections, parties do. An individual might be able to win and retain her/his constituency but that’s not enough to form the government in the state. Of course, a person’s reputation matters but that is rarely enough. We have seen that in Manmohan Singh and now in Manik Sarkar too. Manik Sarkar’s simple and honest image was not enough for his party to secure a historic 5th term win. We can even take the example of Sarbananda Sonowal in Assam. His reputation has been intact since his student union days. Everybody in Assam swears by his political integrity. And he did win elections, even when he was with the AGP. He probably would have continued to do so, even if he had stayed on in AGP or joined congress for that matter. But that would have not been enough to form govt. Thus, it is the party which matters. Giving tickets to right candidates, putting the party interest as top priority and devising a contextualized plan is a must to win elections. And that is what the BJP did in Assam. They have done the same now in Tripura too.
  2. You can’t approach elections as an academic exercise. There is no alternative to hardcore aggressive grassroots campaigning. And what you bring to the table matters. The BJP in Tripura has been in election mode since the last 2.5 years. They had a simple plan, to reach out to every voter. Plans included voter registrations, campaigns and pamphlet distribution in trains, RSS opening large number of shakas and engagement of various volunteers statewide. And the results clearly show that they were able to reach out.
  3. The electorate triumphs in elections. No matter how you analyze, and how well you do, if the electorate don’t want you to win, you probably won’t. I shall use myself as an example here. I have 5 uncles, about a dozen cousins, and many relatives. To be precise, we have about 50 people who vote in my extended family. Being the most educated and ‘politically conscious’ in the family, it would be safe to assume that they would trust my judgement. And they do in everything else. But when it comes to politics, I can rarely influence any. At most, I might be able to influence about 3 people. People vote because of various reasons and my arguments often based on party ideology and agenda, don’t always make a mark among my relatives. Parties need to understand the voting behavior of the people, capture and should be able to utilize it. Moreover, most of the analysis done by political commentors in TV studios, or by us in social media are not always based on those realistic behavioral patterns but are deductions based on conversations we have had with a few people or from what we read/heard in the media.
  4. Alliances Matter. The BJP for instance, knew that they need to forge an Alliance with the IPFT (Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura), if they had to get the tribal vote in Tripura. Similarly, they allied with NDPP in Nagaland. It’s the same Alliance, that has enabled them to be a part of the govt. in Meghalaya and secure a ministerial berth even with only 2 wins.

The above experiences coupled with services of experienced leaders like Himanta Biswa Sharma in each of these states, BJP sure is getting ready for a longer run in the North East


(The opinions expressed are personal. Image via google search)

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