BJP's ‘look East’ policy pays off

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BJP's ‘look East’ policy pays off

Tuesday, 07 March 2023 | Kalyani Shankar

With the recent wins, the BJP is firmly saddled in the northeastern states while Congress is relegated to oblivion

The just released Assembly poll results in three northeastern states - Meghalaya, Nagaland, and Tripura are seen as semi-finals before next year's parliamentary elections when Prime Minister Narendra Modi will seek a third consecutive term at the Centre. There are 25 Lok Sabha constituencies in the region. As they play the see-saw game; for some, like the BJP, they are encouraging, while for the Congress and the Left parties, it is a wake-up call.

The victory in the region is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's long-term strategy, which has paid good dividends. When he became the PM in 2014, BJP was not in power in Northeastern states. Today, it has a firm foothold, as in Tripura or with its allies in the other two states. The ruling BJP-Tripura (IPFT) coalition has retained power in Tripura for a second consecutive term but with reduced numbers. Its strength in Meghalaya and Nagaland remained strong.

On the contrary, the once-dominant force of the Northeast, Congress, is now almost extinct. In 2014, the party was in power in five of the eight states in the region; In Tripura, which had once been the citadel of the Left parties, the CPI(M) 's strength came down from 16 seats to only 11 seats. The Grand Old Party bagged five seats in Meghalaya and three in Tripura while drawing a blank in Nagaland for another term.

One cannot fault the parties for trying all permutations and combinations to stay in power and consolidate their position. The Left parties and Congress experimented with an unnatural pre-poll alliance in Tripura, but it did not work. Sadly, the two national parties dominating the region have steeply declined. Electoral politics is a game of numbers. While the saffron party chose the correct alliance, the two national parties miscalculated. Even the combined strength of Congress- CPI(M) did not get them electoral dividends.

Secondly, the results show the consolidation of the BJP and regional forces. Of the 119 seats in the three states, the regional powers won 83 per cent (70 per cent). The National People's Party (NPP) emerged significantly in Meghalaya and the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) in Nagaland. The Tipra Motha, the second-largest party in Tripura, clearly indicates the growing clout of regional powers.

Thirdly, Modi's Congress Mukt Bharat is becoming a reality. The two national parties – Congress and the CPI-M, which held sway in the region, have lost their grip. The Grand Old Party was decimated, and the Communists could not recover. Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave an interesting explanation for the BJP's victory. He said the reason is Triveni. "The first power is the work of the BJP govt, the second one is the work style of the BJP, and the last one is the karyakartas of the BJP," he explained.

Moreover, the BJP communicated to the electorate well and talked about free ration, housing scheme, pay commission benefits and safety for women. Above all, the rise of the BJP in the region is also its drive and will to win.

BJP's advantage is that the regional parties recognise the new churnings and are keen to align with the party in power at the Centre. As Modi had pointed out, Christians in Meghalaya and Nagaland have supported the party, belying the belief that minorities are against the BJP.

The BJP used its advantages and was ahead in its war chest, cadre strength and leadership. The Prime minister and the other top leaders frequently visited the region that paid the dividend. In the perception war, the BJP won by communicating to the people that the Congress CPI-M was unholy as the two had remained opponents. Above all, the party wanted to be known as a pan-national party and winning the Northeast was a significant achievement. But it cannot be complacent as the Lok Sabha polls are just months away, and the tempo has to be sustained. The BJP also had to deal with its factionalism.

As for Congress, the party should have concentrated on the region and allied with the regional parties just as the BJP did. During the recent elections, the top leadership was complacent and campaigned less than the BJP. The party should stop living in the past glory. The Congress had strong regional leaders like Saikia who protected the party's interests. Somewhere along the way, the party lost its connection with the region; Secondly, this round of polls was held under the leadership of Congress President Mallikharjun Kharge, whose comment that northeastern states are small states and regional parties align with the party in power at the Centre reflects the party's need for a transparent electoral strategy.

The best bet for the Congress is to strengthen regional units that are still active by nurturing strong state leaders and for the Left parties to make a course correction and woo youth voters.

(The author is a senior journalist)

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