The BJP’s victory in Tripura — the 21st state now under the party’s control, including Jammu & Kashmir — is not just any other victory. For the first time in India, there was a direct fight between the Left and Right.
The BJP did not just secure the anti-Left vote, it also took a significant share of votes away from the Left. In the past, the Left always won around 50 percent of the votes — in the last assembly election they had 52 percent of the votes — but in the results declared today, the Left has lost 7 percentage points and been reduced to 45 percent.
The big loser of this election is the Congress, which had 37 percent of the votes in 2013 but was totally decimated, getting only 2 percent of the votes in this election. This emphatic BJP win is a combination of the BJP eating up the entire Congress vote share, along with a significant number of votes from the Left.
How did the BJP pull this off? For the past few years, the party has benefitted from Narendra Modi’s appeal across India and a robust organization that is always in fight mode. In 2013, the BJP had less than 2 per cent of the vote in Tripura, but this time they got 43 percent of the votes — as high as 51 per cent if you add the voteshare of the allies.
Growing from 2 per cent to 43 per cent in this short span of time is almost an impossible task. This has all been done through great investment in their organization. In the last three years, the BJP not only brought leaders and cadres from different parties in the state but also kept them mobilized. The Congress was never able to do this.
One voter who switched support from Congress to BJP told me, “The Congress is only visible during the election, they vanish once the election was over. Their leaders just come for election campaigns. On the other hand, the BJP’s cadres are active at all times.”
The BJP has been working hard on the ground over the last two years. Its slogan, “Chalo paltai”, or Let Us Overturn, not only succeeded in capturing the anti-incumbency vote, it gave two more major messages. They were able to give hope to the people that they would provide a better development model as opposed to the patronage politics of the Left, about whom they said had only benefited a selected few, especially those belonging only to The Party.
Second, unemployment has been high in Tripura and the Left, which ruled the state continuously for 25 years, wasn’t able to connect with the younger generation which has been born and brought up during this period. These young men and women have not seen any government other than the Left, and this time they wanted to give a chance to the BJP.
It has been clear that the youth are increasingly attracted to the BJP, especially in states where the party has not been a significant player. Support for the BJP among youth is not only visible in Tripura but also in Meghalaya and Nagaland. A young graduate working in a hotel said, “The BJP is good for development and they are less corrupt.” This image of the BJP enabled it to get more votes in Meghalaya and Nagaland.
Still, the BJP is not a major player in either of these states, although it has managed to increase its vote share. In 2013, the BJP had less than 2 per cent of the vote in both states, but this time it has got 10 per cent of the vote in Meghalaya and 14 per cent of the vote in Nagaland.
Considering, both these states have a 90 percent Christian population, it is a significant achievement. Remember that the Churches in Nagaland and Meghalaya had also asked its faithful not to vote for the BJP. Moreover, the Congress and other anti-BJP parties had tried to paint the BJP as a solely Hindu party.
This election sends the message that the BJP can win even in those states where it has not been a major player in the past. Politics is all about possibilities and perceptions a party and its leaders can convey to the people. The stunning victory over the Left in Tripura sends the message to voters in other parts of India that the BJP is unstoppable — which is even more important for the several state elections coming up in 2018 and, especially, the national election in 2019.
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