Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s focus on the North East is a springboard for his Look East-Act East outreach.
The BJP’s spectacular showing this election season in the Northeast has reinforced the fact that rival parties have travelled miles away from ground realities.
But first things first.
There was a perception problem with the Northeast. It is no secret that the British wanted to hold on to India through the ‘North East Frontier Area (NEFA)’, and, therefore, created an inner line permit system that allowed unrestricted entry only to the Church and the British officers.
In 1941, Robert Reid, the then governor of Assam who administered the area (Tripura, Manipur and the Khasi dominions/states, including the Garo, Khasi, Jaintia, Mikir, North Cachar and Lushai Hills), prepared a confidential note titled ‘A Note on the Future of the Present Excluded, Partially Excluded and Tribal Areas of Assam’, infamously called the ‘Crown Colony Plan’.
This plan was dropped and, after Independence, New Delhi inherited these areas on an as-is-where-is basis, not having a clue how to administer them.
The Congress party heavily depended on local tribal leaders, insurgent groups and, to a great extent, a section of the Church that controlled a large segment of the population. The consequences were disastrous – identity clashes (Nellie massacre), tribal conflicts, parallel governments by armed insurgent groups and, above all, a perception of alienation.
The BJP kept its ear close to the ground and heard the voice of local identity as well as the aspirations of the youth and the marginalised, and recognised the simmering sub-terrain remonstration over the thrusting of an alien identity (St Peter Nagar and Stalin/Lenin Sarani).
The BJP glorified Rani Gaidinliu, supported the Hornbill Festival showcasing tribal dance traditions, identified with the youth and women and, more importantly, worked to create a cadre base up to the voting-booth level.
The Narendra Modi-Amit Shah team worked tirelessly to prepare a strategy for every single constituency in the three states. It worked.
The Congress had virtually given up after losing Assam to the BJP two years ago. The party had no new narrative, no resolve to fight back, no attempts to learn from defeat, and no cadre. It was left with only an apathetic and uninspiring leadership. Little wonder then that important leaders of the Congress knew what was coming and shifted base to a winning combination. As part of the strategy, the BJP tied up with smaller but significant local parties and influential groups, long abandoned by the Congress.
In Meghalaya, a very dynamic chief minister, a practising doctor who accidentally strayed into politics, was left to fend for himself with no support from the woefully indifferent Congress party ‘high command’. With a big chunk of his team deserting him at a crucial time, his capacity to retain his voter base is entirely a personal accomplishment. Wiped out from the rest of the Northeast, the party is hanging by a thread in the Hills and even that could snap anytime.
Tripura is the Waterloo of the Left movement in the country. The four-term CPM chief minister’s resolve to go it alone is not only a snub for the Congress but also for his party’s top leadership.
Prime Minister Modi was determined to concentrate on the Northeast for its development and also as a springboard for his ‘Look East-Act East’ outreach. The next few years will be very crucial not only for the Northeast, but also for the success of New Delhi’s economic and foreign policy.
The hopes and aspirations of the party cadre and the people have risen phenomenally. The Modi-Shah team will have to burn the midnight oil to see to it that the new dispensations perform and put their best foot forward. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the BJP, on its way up north, to change the narrative about the Northeast, complete economic integration, and illuminate the gateway to South-east Asia with shining prosperity. No alibis will work.
The author is a security and strategic affairs commentator and former editor of ‘Organiser’.