Tuesday, 24 May, 2022
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With 3 more NE states in kitty, BJP prepares for next phase of its ‘Act East’ policy

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Party sources say it is looking to make up for expected losses in the heartland through gains in the east and northeast, and could use Tripura as a blueprint.

New Delhi: Its stunning, well-crafted victory in Tripura has further reinforced the Bharatiya Janata Party’s growing footprint in the northeast. The party is actually hoping to gain in the entire east, partly to offset losses that it might suffer in the north and west in next year’s Lok Sabha elections.

This geographical expansion will also help underline the BJP’s narrative of being popular even in non-Hindi speaking regions, and being able to penetrate these societies despite its contentious stand on issues like beef.

Its strategy in Tripura, in fact, was a successful experiment that is expected to be replicated in Odisha and West Bengal.

Hope from the northeast

BJP sources say the party expects to lose up to 80 seats in north, west and central states like Rajasthan, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, where it had nearly made a clean sweep in 2014.

To an extent, these can be offset by gains made in Odisha, West Bengal, and the northeast.

The seven northeastern states and Sikkim together account for 25 Lok Sabha seats, of which the BJP currently has only eight. Odisha sends 21 MPs and West Bengal 42, so the east accounts for 88 seats, of which the BJP currently holds only 11.

“In the northeast, Assam should be the biggest gain; of its 14 seats, we are aiming for around 10-12. The other smaller states will add up. Overall, of the 25, we are targeting around 19-20 seats,” said a party source who is part of the strategy team for the northeast and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The BJP believes anti-incumbency won’t be a factor in these states, since not enough time would have passed since it has been in power. The people of these states will vote on the basis of the Narendra Modi government’s performance.

Odisha the main focus

The focus state for the BJP is Odisha, where Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal has been in power since 2000. The Odisha assembly elections are due alongside the Lok Sabha polls, and the BJP sees it as fertile ground for its next expansion.

In some ways, Odisha is similar to Tripura, given that much like the Left in Tripura since 1993, the BJD hasn’t seen any real challenge. The BJP believes that its meticulous planning, vibrant election machinery, highlighting poor socio-economic indicators of the state, bringing the tribal population to its side, and cashing in on anti-incumbency will help tackle Patnaik’s might.

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