How the BJP became India’s dominant political force under Modi

Published : 10 Mar 2023 08:34 PM

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has scored impressive electoral victories in the recently concluded assembly polls in the three Indian states of the North East, Tripura, Meghalaya, and Nagaland. It has retained Tripura, with 32 seats in the 60 seat assembly.

Incumbent chief minister, Manik Saha, is all set to continue. An emergent power, however, is Pradyot Deb Barma, scion of the erstwhile royal family, and leader of the regional Tipra Motha Party, which bagged an impressive 13 seats and almost 20% of the popular vote.

In Nagaland, BJP supports three-time chief minister, Neiphiu Rio, of the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP), and in Meghalaya, National People's Party (NPP)’s chief minister Conrad Sangma.

Returning to power either on its own, as in Tripura, or with its coalition partners in Nagaland and Meghalaya, the BJP is now in power in all the eight states in the North Eastern region (NER). This is a remarkable feat.

To understand and appreciate its achievement, we will have to delve into the background of the region. The NER though often thought of as one unit, is one of the most diverse and complex in India. Consisting of the original “seven sisters,” Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura, a “brother” state, Sikkim, was also added to the region in 2002.

The seven sisters

The seven sisters were part of Assam during the colonial period, though their capital was the cooler “hill station,” Shillong, currently the capital of Meghalaya.

The largest state, Assam, according to the 2011 census, has a population of over 31 million. All the others together add hardly more than another 15 million, with the smallest, Sikkim, being less than a million strong.

The total population of the entire region is about 45 million, or twice that of greater Delhi or Mumbai metropolitan regions, but its political and strategic importance is tremendous.

The BJP is now training its sights on Kerala. 

Will it bust some more myths there? Only time

 will tell, but its impressive performance in the

 North East certainly augurs well for its campaign 

in the NER in the 2024 general elections

Meghalaya, Manipur and Tripura got their statehood in 1971. Nagaland became a full-fledged state in the Indian union on December 1, 1963, while Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram, which were union territories, became states in 1987.

Sikkim, whose traditional name is Sukhim or Blissful, was a tiny, protectorate kingdom, became part of India through a referendum in 1975.

Several parts of the region, including Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram, and Manipur have also had a history of insurgency, with demands for independence or special status within the Indian union.

The wheel of fortune turns

The BJP had virtually no presence in the NER until a few years back. Today it rules in all the eight states of the region. Exactly how did this happen? The wheel of fortune became to turn in its favour in 2016, when it scored a landslide victory in Assam, displacing the Congress, which had ruled for 15 years.

The key to this success was Himanta Biswa Sarma, a Congress leader who crossed over to the BJP in 2015. He was also instrumental in establishing the North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), a political front, consisting of several regional parties, with the stated aim to protect the interests of the region. Sarma became NEDA’s convenor. Several parties like Asom Gana Parishad, Bodoland People's Front, Naga People's Front, Sikkim Democratic Front, and People's Party of Arunachal Pradesh, joined NEDA.

Attended the oath taking ceremony of Shri @SangmaConrad Ji and his ministerial team. Congratulations to those who took oath. Best wishes to them in their pursuit of taking Meghalaya to new heights of growth.

In neighbouring Tripura, the following year, the BJP defeated the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM), which had ruled the state for a quarter of a century. In 2018, it also joined the government in Meghalaya and Nagaland as the “junior partner.”

The BJP’s winning streak continued in 2019 in Arunachal Pradesh. After major political manoeuvring and changing parties a couple of times, Pema Khandu led the BJP to 41 out of 60 seats victory in the assembly elections. The BJP retained Assam in 2021, with Himanta Biswa Sarma becoming the chief minister.

Last year, BJP won again in Manipur. In Sikkim, Prem Singh Tamang, of the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) and in Mizoram, Zoramthanga of the Mizo National Front (MNF), have been ruling with the support of the BJP.

Pan-India presence

Especially given that the party is identified with Hindutva and the Hindi belt in northern and central India, while several states in the NER have large tribal and Christian populations, how has the BJP won?

A simple answer would be that despite whatever aspersions its opponents and critics might cast on it, the BJP is a formidable political force, with a tremendous will to win and a hardworking cadre of workers. It also delivers development like none of its predecessors or opposition parties has managed to. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi leading India at the centre, many of the smaller states in the NER have found it far more advantageous to align with the ascendant ruling party than hitch their wagon to a falling star such as the Congress.

As Modi, in his victory speech, on March 2, sarcastically underscored, “Some well-wishers have a stomach ache thinking what is the secret of BJP victories.”

He continued, “Some opposition leaders and their ecosystems have tried hard for decades to perpetuate myths and stick labels on us….The BJP has dismantled all these myths…. For years, fear mongering has also been done among minorities about the BJP. ... But in the North East, too, the BJP is constantly gaining ground in Christian dominated belts.”

The BJP is now training its sights on Kerala. Will it bust some more myths there? Only time will tell, but its impressive performance in the North East certainly augurs well for its campaign in the NER in the 2024 general elections.

Makarand R. Paranjape is a Professor of English at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. Views are personal. 

Source: Gulf News