PM Modi starts Meghalaya campaign tomorrow, but can rainbow coalition win it for BJP?

BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav has called for a “rainbow coalition” of all non-Congress parties in either a pre-poll or post-poll alliance.

Written by Esha Roy | Updated: December 16, 2017 9:38 pm
Meghalaya can eat beef, as PM kicks off poll campaign tomorrow Prime minister Narendra Modi at the Parliament house. (Express photo by Prem Nath Pandey)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will kick off the BJP’s campaign in North East from Shillong’s Polo Grounds in Meghalaya tomorrow. BJP National General Secretary Ram Madhav is already present in the Meghalaya capital with a host of other BJP leaders in preparation for the rally, and to push hard on the BJP’s chances in unchartered territory – two of the North-eastern states that will go to polls early next year, Meghalaya and Nagaland – are entirely Christian states. The third, Tripura, has been dominated by the Left for decades, and is the only state in the country where there will be a direct face-off between the Right and the Left.

The BJP is pushing to gain critical ground in Meghalaya – where political analysts say anti-incumbency is at an all- time high because of the allegedly unpopular Congress chief minister Mukul Sangma, although it is equally true that the Christian-majority state will not be as pliable to  the BJP as Assam and Manipur have been.

Both Assam and Manipur, like most other North-eastern states have been Congress bastions. Assam moved into the BJP’s camp last year when the BJP promised to curb illegal Bangladeshi immigration, and its large Hindu population bought into that assurance. In Meghalaya as well, the BJP will be raising the issue of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants (Meghalaya shares a 443-km- long border with Bangladesh), but the fact remains that the issue has not been as big a concern in this state as it has been in Assam.

BJP insiders in Meghalaya remain optimistic. They believe they are the front-runners, believing that regional parties are fed up with the Congress party. This has prompted Ram Madhav to call for a “rainbow coalition” of all non-Congress parties in either a pre-poll or post-poll alliance. But political analysts say the BJP is unlikely to garner more than 5-6 seats in the 60-seat assembly.

There are a couple of reasons for this, the most important being the “BJP-RSS- Hindu right wing phobia” that seems to be a thread that runs through the minds of the predominantly Christian electorate. An analyst has recently told me that many regional parties are hesitant to join hands with the BJP before the elections for this very reason. The banning of beef fed into this BJP-phobia, although the BJP has categorically denied that it is banned in Meghalaya, and the rest of the beef-eating North East. A BJP leader in Meghalaya has gone on to say that the BJP is not against legal beef shops, only against illegal ones which run without permits. Certainly, this is an issue the Congress is likely to raise and use to its advantage.

The BJP camp, moreover, maintains that demonetization and GST have had absolutely no detrimental effect in the small north-eastern state, but local journalists and analysts aver that these two policy decisions will make it difficult for the party to gain ground. This may be the reason why, despite a number of leaders having deserted the Congress ahead of the elections, only one notable name, former Congress minister A.L.Hek, has joined the BJP.

Thousands of residents are expected at Modi’s rally tomorrow, a fact acknowledged by the BJP’s detractors as well. But these critics insist that the throngs are unlikely to translate into actual votes. Modi’s rally, even if it doesn’t sway the electorate, will definitely enthuse the BJP workers and supporters to go out in to the field and work for the campaign, to try and convince an unconvinced electorate to give them a chance. In any case, Meghalaya has had a history of hung assemblies and hastily stitched together patchwork governments. If the BJP does manage to dislodge an already unpopular Congress government, it will only be with the help of regional players. And that will most likely happen after the elections are over.

Watch this space for a new set of political permutations and combinations, in which the BJP makes new promises to the North-East even if this means making a total about-turn to the promises it has made to several North Indian states. So it may ban beef in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, or promote it in Meghalaya and Nagaland with equal panache. The BJP has certainly learnt to attempt the art of the impossible these last three years in power. If the Congress wants to retain at least a part of the North-East, it must match the energy of the BJP. As Rahul Gandhi takes over the helm of India’s grand old party, just as the Prime Minister speaks to the assembled crowd in Shillong, it must also plan to reinvent itself.

Esha Roy is the bureau chief of the Indian Express in Kolkata and tweets @esha_ie

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  1. Biman Das
    Dec 21, 2017 at 11:19 am
    The author must either be smoking weed or is a religious nut. "Tribal" is not synonymous with "Christian". There are Hindu and animistic tribal groups living here for centuries. I guess she has never heard of kingdoms like Kangleipak, Jaintia, Sutiya, Ahom, Kachari, Dimasa, etc. Even Meghalaya herself is home to several indigenous Hindu tribes like Hajongs, Rabhas, Kochs, Meiteis, etc. This article is nothing more than a badly researched opinionated piece with several incorrect facts.
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      Rajeev
      Dec 16, 2017 at 4:35 pm
      Modi Ji apart from election campaign please do your prime minister job first.
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      1. vinay kumar
        Dec 16, 2017 at 9:43 am
        There is hardly a chance for bjp in meghalaya without allaince support
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          pawan gupta
          Dec 16, 2017 at 7:37 am
          Bangladesh and India share a 4,156 km (2,582 mi)-long international border, the fifth-longest land border in the world, including 262 km (163 mi) in Assam, 856 km (532 mi) in Tripura, 180 km (110 mi) in Mizoram, 443 km (275 mi) in Meghalaya, and 2,217 km (1,378 mi) in Bengal.[1] pls check your facts, meghalaya does not share 4156 km border with bangladesh further your analysis is as wrong as your facts
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          1. Barb Dewyre
            Dec 16, 2017 at 4:46 am
            Dear Mr. Modi, sir, please rest your vocal chords. You have just returned from a strenuous tour of Gujarat and we noticed that towards the end of that tour you could hardly speak. Also, you have to think of some more absurd allegations to throw on the opposition. This mandir and Pakistan bit is getting a bit stale and people a no longer mesmerized by it. The cow cannot be a factor in Meghalaya as they all eat it there, so, you really need to stretch your imagination to think of new agendas. All this noise about all of India going in for a single election seems good for drawing room conversation but we know you will never put it into practice as that will render you jobless. Can you imagine what will you and your cabinet do for five years if here are no elections! You will not have anybody to blame, no evoking false nationalism, no cow, no mandir, no excuse to kill minorities and perhaps, relations with Pakistan might just improve as you will no longer be bringing them at every excuse.
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            1. FernandezIM
              Dec 16, 2017 at 9:31 am
              Agreed. This fellow has no other job except electioneering, and he does it without shame. I am waiting for some dark rumblings about the Jesus peoples' conversion agenda in the North East. His new found Evangelical friends in the US will find it interesting reading. Only a month or so ago, this fellow was writing to the EC or something about holding a unified election, since he found both administration and electioneering tiring. But obviously as a practised liar he does not mean an iota of what he says.
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                Middy
                Dec 17, 2017 at 9:47 am
                Spotted a Christian bigot who always possess apathy towards anybody who proudly says I am Hindu.
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              2. Shiva Vaid
                Dec 16, 2017 at 10:23 am
                If we want progress in this country Mr Modi is the only person who will do it. I request all people from all faiths to support Mr. Modi for nations progress. This is a submission request .
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