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The credit for Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) stellar performance in the three state Assembly elections in the Northeast, the results for which were declared on Saturday, can be given to a host of new leaders in the party. Here is a look at these rising stars:
Sunil Deodhar, 52 - Tripura in-charge
Sunil Deodhar joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1985, and has been a model member — committed to the cause, but with a low profile. He was part of the team that managed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 2014 election campaign from Varanasi, and was made the Tripura in-charge in November that year. BJP President Amit Shah, who handpicked Deodhar, knew that he had spent many years in the Northeast since 1991.
The job Deodhar was assigned was herculean. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) had held on to Tripura since 1993. Chief Minister Manik Sarkar had a corruption-free image, and the Left Front a strong cadre base. Deodhar had some support from RSS’s Vanavasi Kalyan Ashrams, who worked in the tribal areas.
To fight the CPI(M), dominated by Bengalis, he reached out to the tribals, who comprise 31 per cent of the state’s population. He even learnt their language, Kokborok.
The BJP’s membership swelled to 400,000 by 2016, with many from the Congress joining its ranks. He also used social media to great effect and coined the winning slogan: Chalo paltai (Let’s change).
Ram Madhav, 53 - National general secretary
One of the first people to be inducted into the party after Shah became BJP president in 2014, Ram Madhav had been a well-known TV spokesperson of the Sangh Parivar and a RSS member. His first task was to maximise the BJP’s seats in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly elections the very same year. He played a key role in forming the BJP-People’s Democratic Party coalition government.
He went from strength to strength, forming the first BJP government in the Northeast in Assam. Before the 2016 elections in the state, he made key alliances with Asom Gana Parishad and Bodoland People’s Front. He also poached senior leader Himanta Biswa Sarma from the Congress. He was instrumental in forming a BJP government in Arunachal Pradesh, and then in Manipur in 2017. He oversaw the party’s election preparedness in Meghalaya and Nagaland.
Many see Madhav as the next party chief. He has also become BJP’s strategist on international relations, and is closely associated with the India Foundation. Will the party now send him to the Rajya Sabha? That remains to be seen.
Himanta Biswa Sarma, 49 - Finance Minister, Assam
Months before the Assam Assembly elections in early 2016, Himanta Biswa Sarma went to meet Rahul Gandhi. The then Congress vice-president was apparently busy feeding his pet dog, Pidli, and hardly gave Sarma any time. Before Rahul Gandhi, now Congress president, could realise his mistake, Sarma was with Ram Madhav, discussing the BJP’s poll strategy for Assam.
Sources close to Rahul Gandhi dispute this story, claiming that Sarma was already working with the BJP in 2014. He is also accused of defeating the Congress candidates in three Lok Sabha seats. Sarma’s detractors claim Rahul Gandhi was well aware of his growing proximity to the BJP.
Whatever the truth might be, Sarma has proved to be an effective organiser for the BJP in the Northeast. Sarma has known politicians of all hues in the area because of his years in the All Assam Students Union and subsequently the Congress. He has emerged as the key crisis manager of the BJP in the Northeast states. Sarma has ensured resources are generated and reach party candidates, particularly in Tripura.
Biplab Deb, 49 - Tripura unit chief
Biplab Deb, most likely to become the chief minister of Tripura, has been a RSS volunteer for some time. After completing his schooling in the state capital Agartala, Deb went to Delhi for higher education. He also spent a few years at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur.
Some of his friends claim Deb moved to Delhi about 15 years back and has worked with BJP leaders. According to some reports, he has also worked as a gym instructor in the national capital, though this claim has been disputed.
While RSS pracharak Sunil Deodhar was sent to galvanise the BJP in Tripura, the party needed a younger local face. Deb was made the party state unit chief in 2016. “I am ready to take the responsibility (of leading the party’s government in the state). I will not run away from it,” Deb said after the BJP won the Tripura Assembly election on Saturday.