That the roar of the assembly election results in Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland, situated on the north-eastern periphery of the country, resonates across the mainland is what the BJP will want. Because therein lies a message for the rest of India, one that’s deeper than the electoral gains in the three states which account for only five seats in Lok Sabha.
The results Saturday will raise ideological and practical political cheer in the ruling BJP while lowering Opposition morale as they all head into the last year of the Modi government before the scheduled 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
If the Gujarat assembly election results last December gave it a scare, the ruling BJP suffered a humiliating setback in bypolls in politically important Rajasthan early last month. While that brought about a spring in Opposition step, the discovery of a politically-damaging largescale fraud in a public sector bank last month also appeared to be adding to dark clouds on the horizon in an election year.
The electoral gains for the BJP in these three north-eastern states and the decimation of the Congress in Tripura and Nagaland and the CPM’s resounding defeat in Tripura has sent a national reminder to the Opposition. The results are a setback to an Opposition that had been gearing to corner the BJP over the bank fraud during the second leg of the Budget session starting Monday.
Additionally, given the set of assembly elections leading up to the Lok Sabha polls next year, these results will instil confidence in BJP ranks. Aware of this, BJP president Amit Shah indicated as much Saturday, invoking these election results to motivate cadres for the assembly elections later this year and the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
These results are also significant for the external signals on the march of nationalist politics in the country. Internally, it is a moment of satisfaction for saffron politics — the Communists have been defeated in a direct electoral contest in a state assembly (Tripura).
“Message bahut bada hai (it is a big message),” a senior RSS functionary from Nagpur said of the BJP victory in Tripura. The RSS is holding its Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha next week.
“Communiston ke jhoothe sapnon ki dunia toot rahi hai (the false dream of Communism is ending),” said RSS pracharak Sunil Ambekar who has been serving as organising secretary of the RSS student wing. The ABVP has been confronting the dominance of Left-backed student organisations in universities across the country.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shah too indicated that the Tripura win is sweeter because it is a victory over what they called the violent politics of the Communists. “Chot ka jawab vote se diya hai,” Modi told BJP workers at the party headquarters, referring to attacks on BJP cadres by Communists in their strongholds.
Although the BJP has been challenging the Communists ideologically, Tripura was the first election where both were in a direct contest for power. In West Bengal, the BJP has been trying hard to relegate the Left to the third position and is working overtime to take on Communists in Kerala.
Externally, the electoral gains in the north-eastern states provide the BJP an opportunity to project a wider umbrella, countering opponents who accuse it of pursuing a narrow Hindutva agenda.
Winning in the north-east, home to diverse communities divided along ethnic identity lines, allows the BJP to project itself as a party ready to accommodate different identities for its nationalist politics. Stitching up alliances with political parties or communities with different ethnic identities across Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Nagaland, Manipur and Tripura and forming governments there helps the BJP counter allegations of pursuing a narrow political agenda.
On the surface, the fact that it is ruling five states in the north-east adds to the rise of the BJP as the predominant national party. It also dilutes the criticism of BJP being a Hindi-heartland party even as the party struggles to deepen its presence in the southern states.
The melting away of the Congress in Tripura (from over 35 per cent to below two per cent votes) and Nagaland (from 25 per cent to two per cent) will dent the morale of the party which was hopeful after its improved performance in the Gujarat assembly elections last December.
As for the Communists who have led the intellectual battle against the BJP-sponsored narrative in the public discourse, the defeat at the hands of the BJP will take the weight out of their arguments in stitching a narrative before the Lok Sabha polls.
The results of these three states have given a jolt to the Congress and CPM, the two parties best placed to set in motion a national alliance to challenge the BJP in the run-up to 2019.