After its landslide victory in the 2016 Assam assembly election, BJP’s performance in the Northeast has been on an upswing.
Khowai (Tripura): After Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, the BJP has set its eyes on the Left stronghold of Tripura even before the end of the election process in the high-stakes poll in Gujarat.
With the state assembly elections just two months away, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah are set to take charge of the party’s strategy in the state, party officials said.
Modi is expected to officially launch the party’s campaign in this northeastern state in mid-January, they told ThePrint.
Besides Modi and Shah, the BJP will deploy union ministers and leaders from BJP-ruled states such as Assam and Manipur to campaign in Tripura.
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat will also address a ‘Hindu Sammelan’ in the poll-bound state.
Rise of BJP in NE
After its landslide victory in the 2016 Assam assembly election, the BJP’s electoral performance has been on an upswing in the Northeast.
In Manipur, the BJP wrested power from the Congress with the help of smaller parties despite the Congress emerging as the single largest party with 28 seats in the 60-member House.
In Arunachal, known for its political instability marked by factionalism in the parties, the BJP got a ‘surprise’ government for which it did not have to fight an election. The dramatic twist came after 33, out of 43 Peoples’ Party of Arunachal (PPA) legislators led by CM Pema Khandu, joined the party.
In Nagaland, the BJP has partnered with the Naga People’s Front. Similarly, the Sikkim Democratic Front is now a member of the BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance, led by controversial Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.
Prospects in Tripura
With just two Lok Sabha constituencies and a single Rajya Sabha seat, Tripura has traditionally not figured prominently in the strategies of most national parties. However, the BJP, backed by the RSS, has been trying to expand its footprint in the state and sees this election as a good opportunity to step up its campaign and make its presence felt.
As a curtain-raiser to the election campaign, the BJP Wednesday began its ‘Bidai Shankhnad’ programme in Khowai district, aimed at giving what it said was a “farewell to the Left government”.
“The BJP’s graph has gone upward because of people like PM Modi. The Left cannot ignore this. We will have a Left-mukt Tripura soon,” Sunil Deodhar, BJP in-charge of Tripura, told ThePrint.
The party has alleged that the Manik Sarkar government has resorted to political killings fearing its imminent loss in the election.
“No one opposed the Left in Tripura as everyone is afraid of them. There have been 450 cases of killings and other forms of political violence registered since we started opposing them six months ago. We will fight them and not be cowed down by their threat,” said BJP Tripura president Biplav Kumar Dev.
The party that failed to secure even one seat in the last assembly election now has six MLAs in the House. All of them, however, won polls on Congress tickets and later joined the BJP.
“On the lines of Congress-mukt Bharat, the BJP will give a slogan of CPM-mukt Tripura this election,” said Deodhar.
The tall claims notwithstanding, the BJP will have to work really hard to become appealing to the electorate. That the Modi factor may not work in Tripura can be gauged from the fact the previous rally he addressed in Tripura before becoming PM drew a lukewarm response from voters who have backed the Left for nearly two decades.
Targeting women voters
Women’s safety is an issue that the BJP is highlighting in the poll-bound state. The party has collected videos and accounts of alleged rape victims to corner the Manik Sarkar government.
The party’s national leader Vijaya Rahatkar has been entrusted with the task of mobilising women in Tripura.
“A rape case in the CM’s constituency goes unnoticed. There have been cases here which are more horrific than Nirbhaya and yet not even a single FIR gets registered,” said Rahatkar, addressing a group of women in Khowai district.
“Now, the time has come that we show our strength and power to this corrupt government,” she added.
In an attempt to showcase the Modi government’s plan to empower women, the BJP put up hoardings of all women ministers in the central government on a 2 km stretch leading to the rally.
Allegation against state govt
The BJP leader alleged that initiatives such as Mudra Bank and Jan Dhan are not reaching women.
“You can avail loans and get training to become independent. But the CM (Manik Sarkar) does not want this. And thus, you don’t get the benefits,” said Rahatkar.
Why NE is crucial for BJP
Despite the BJP’s simple explanation that it is expanding its base in the northeast, some party insiders believe that the region is part of a larger strategy to make up for losses, if any, in other parts of the country.
“If our seats reduce in central or north India, northeast could help us do a balancing act,” said a senior leader.
Other leaders say it is the RSS’ idea of ‘Akhand Bharat’ that is prompting BJP to expand its base in the northeast in an attempt to discourage secessionist tendencies in the region.
Party sources said the northeast states, which share borders with Bangladesh, Myanmar and China, are crucial for internal security. “Besides insurgency, there is the problem of illegal immigrants coming from neighbouring countries. Even attempts are being made to claim Indian territory by neighbours, which needs to be addressed. This is why we are expanding our base in the region,” said another senior leader.
While the Sangh is active in Assam, Tripura has just started to see its presence. “The work of RSS was minimal and it has started expanding recently,” said Deodhar.