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The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has breached the last remaining Left fortress, Tripura. In Nagaland, it looks set to form the next government with its ally Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP). Although, at the moment, Meghalaya is moving towards a hung assembly, BJP’s past records – in Manipur and Goa, it formed governments despite ending up in a minority – suggest that it shall leave no stone unturned to get to power.
The larger message, of course, is that BJP can truly stake its claim to be the only national party of stature. If one does not count Meghalaya as yet, the BJP and its allies will have governments in 21 states. In the last four years, except in some south Indian states, the saffron party has been able to get a footprint in most geographies of India by concentrating on grabbing power alone or by stitching up unconventional alliances with regional parties.
Along with this, it has also worked towards building its core organisational strength across different regions. The party has used its narrative of development to attract fence-sitters and ideological Hindutva to consolidate Hindus. Aided by its huge resources, the twin strategy, has helped the party in both the short and long term.
It is clear that ahead of the 2019 general elections, BJP will project itself as having no serious contenders, after having defeated its only real ideological opponent – the Left. The optics of such a political narrative, some party insiders said, will let the party send a message that the BJP, despite its flaws, is the only choice, with other political fronts pushed to the wayside. This may help BJP tide over its failures on the governance front. And in a situation where the party ends up performing poorly than in the 2014 parliamentary polls in the big states of north India, it would have the north-east and Jammu and Kashmir cushioning its final figure.
The BJP’s victory against the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which had an unrestricted rule for 25 years, in Tripura is certainly a feather in its cap. It worked hard for more than two years to dismantle the Left bastion, employed the rank and file of its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, captured people’s attention through its aggressive campaign, to first occupy the primary oppositional space and then winning the polls.
The fact that it leapt from less than 2% vote share in 2013 assembly polls to almost 43% in 2018 speaks for itself. In contrast, the Congress, which was the primary opposition to the CPI(M) could not open its account and finished with less than 2% votes – a dip from 36.53% in 2013. BJP not only replaced the Congress by engineering major defections in the party but also swung almost 5% votes away from the CPI (M), such was the saffron party’s performance.
It would be fair to say that BJP’s was able to successfully sell its narrative of private investment-driven development towards the end of elections whereas the CPI (M) struggled in pushing its social development model as a credible alternative. In addition, it did not dither in striking an alliance with the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), whose primary demand is creation of a separate state for tribals of Tripura.
Similarly, in Nagaland, the BJP increased its tally from one seat and less than 2% vote share to nearly 15%, landing 11 seats alone out of the 20 it contested and more than 30, if its ally National Democratic Progressive Party’s (NDPP) tally is added. Interestingly, the BJP fought the election with NDPP against the Naga People’s Front (NPF), which is a part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Thus, had the NPF defeated the BJP-NDPP combine, the saffron party would still have claimed it as its own.
A mix of such different strategies has helped the BJP come to power in different states. It has undoubtedly worked harder than others. The Congress, for example, had given up on the Tripura battle and concentrated its energies on Meghalaya where it could not attain a simple majority. The CPI(M), until the results were declared, was sure of its victory even as it reluctantly admitted that BJP has emerged as a force in Tripura.
In contrast, BJP placed Sunil Deodhar, an old RSS hand, to build its organisation in Tripura. In an interview to The Wire, Deodhar spoke about how he went about things. Soon after the victory, he said that the credit for the win should go to more than 42,000 panna pramukhs (ground-level organisers), which the RSS enrolled in the last two years. Given his RSS background, Deodhar saw the contest as a clear Right vs Left battle, nothing less.
For a party like BJP, which is deep-rooted in its Hindutva agenda, an ideological victory matters and has great significance in motivating its cadres. Under Modi-Shah’s leadership, time-to-time elections have become the most important vehicles to register these victories and assert the party’s ideological domination.
Not surprisingly, party president Amit Shah congratulated party cadres in Kerala and West Bengal on Tripura’s win. He portrayed that the cadres in these two states have been the victims of Left-sponsored violence.
At the same time, he declared Tripura’s win as one in which the BJP rose from shunya (zero) to shikhar (summit). His political messaging was pin-pointed and clearly laid out his future plans. That BJP is no more a ‘Hindi belt’ party. That vikas had not reached the eastern and north-eastern regions of the country. With this win, that cycle has started to roll in the north-east and the party hopes that the people of eastern India would also adopt it.
In other words, he meant that Odisha, where assembly polls and parliamentary polls will be held simultaneously in 2019 and where the ruling Biju Janata Dal has trumped the party comfortably last time, and Trinamool Congress-led West Bengal will be his next targets.
With a refined election machinery and and an unhesitating attitude towards making ideological compromises, BJP, to a vast majority of Hindus, represents a little of everything. A little development, a little Hindutva, and also only a little corrupt. With an electorate which is perhaps exhausted with unkept political promises, this works. Unless some other party has a radical new alternative to offer and also has the potential to make that popular, the BJP will continue to dominate national politics.