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Voters in the northeastern states do not follow the ideological and electoral patterns of mainland India. But that cannot take away from the impressive performance of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the three northeastern states that went to polls in February. The BJP's showing is particularly sweeter for having defeated the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Tripura, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to lead the celebrations at the BJP's newly inaugurated national headquarters here.
On the lighter side, but something that had gnawed at party leaders ever since the BJP national headquarter was shifted from 11, Ashoka Road in Lutyens Delhi to 6A, Deendayal Upadhyay Road on February 18, the party's performance in the northeast suggests the new office is propitious.
The results also indicate the BJP's onward march in the northeastern states. The BJP currently has governments in Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam in the northeast. Its rule, at least in Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, has not turned out to be as calamitous as some had feared and the party has shown enough flexibility and maturity to respect local customs and traditions. It is on its way to forming a government in Tripura, with the CPI (M) thrown out of power for the first time since 1993.
The wins in the northeastern states, particularly Tripura, have immense symbolic value for the BJP. The CPI (M), by virtue of also being a cadre based party with strong ideological moorings, has significant influence in the media, academia and intelligentsia. More than defeating the Congress, the BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) consider it more important to decimate the CPI (M) and its allies in the left movement. The Tripura victory of the BJP could lead to political violence in the state. Already, there are calls from Sangh Parivar supporters to avenge the death of RSS workers killed in Tripura during the Left rule.
The Tripura win adds yet another feather in the cap of BJP chief Amit Shah. More importantly, it adds to the prestige of party general secretary Ram Madhav. It remains to be seen if Madhav will get a place in the Rajya Sabha in the forthcoming elections to 58 Upper House seats, but he is already being seen as a successor to Shah as the party president.
Since 2014, Madhav has delivered to the BJP the opportunity to be part of a government in Jammu and Kashmir. He had also managed the election preparedness for Assam and Manipur polls, both of which the BJP won. Before 2014, the BJP had never formed any governments, or been part of any governments, either in Jammu and Kashmir or the northeastern states. Tripura win also raises the stock of party leader Sunil Deodhar, who was sent to micromanage the election preparedness in the state.
The Tripura win underlines how the Congress in the state could never mount a challenge to the CPI (M)-led Left government in all these years, which had led to much anger among the Congress leadership and workers. Many of them had shifted to the Trinamool Congress in frustration, and later switched sides to the BJP.
The ramifications for the CPI (M) are more interesting. The party is currently in the midst of an intense internal political battle between former party chief Prakash Karat and current chief Sitaram Yechury. Outgoing Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar had supported Karat, with the party delegates from the Tripura unit voting for the ‘political tactical line’ that Karat has proposed at the party's last central committee meeting. It was also expected that politburo member Brinda Karat might debut in the Rajya Sabha from the state if the CPI (M) were to win.
Days and weeks leading up to the party conclave in Hyderabad in the third week of April, where the Karat camp is expected to oust Yechury, would be interesting. But for now, enjoy BJP's much deserved celebrations on Saturday evening.