New Delhi: Ten MLAs of the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Tuesday, marking the beginning of the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine’s overt move to make a foray into the only northeastern state they are yet to penetrate using their preferred technique in the region — welcoming defectors.
This comes just days after Congress’ whip in Rajya Sabha Bhubaneshwar Kalita resigned to join the BJP, terming his party’s stance on the big Jammu and Kashmir changes “suicidal”. Kalita was a Rajya Sabha member from Assam.
Currently, the BJP has governments in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Tripura, while in Nagaland and Meghalaya, it is a constituent of the government with the regional parties being the bigger partners.
With 10 of 13 SDF MLAs, excluding former chief minister Pawan Kumar Chamling, joining the BJP, the party has now effectively become the main opposition in the state, which was hitherto an unexplored territory.
Engineering such mass shift of leaders from another party to it has been the BJP’s modus operandi in the entire region, and this case isn’t any different.
The northeast has been a region where the BJP traditionally had no base. Being a party that relies on its ground workers and cadres, it became imperative for the BJP to build an organisation in these states. To that effect, the party has relied on a simple strategy — engineering defections from established parties.
“We have made this massive entry into the northeastern states by building a solid organisation structure through encouraging rebels from other, existing parties to join (us). These workers/leaders are already in touch with the ground politics and, hence, prove to be a ready-made asset for us. In Sikkim, we have followed the exact model,” said a well-placed source in the BJP, who did not wish to be identified.
BJP’s chief strategist in the region — Himanta Biswa Sarma — who is himself a former Congress leader and now a senior minister in the Assam government, is at the forefront of building the party’s base and managing its affairs in the region. Sarma, along with general secretary Ram Madhav, has been instrumental in the BJP’s rise in the northeast.
Sikkim is just another state in the long list of examples that show how the BJP has built its architecture in the northeast. The most striking example is Tripura — where the BJP pulled off a stunning victory in the 2018 Assembly polls, routing the well-entrenched Left Front government.
A state where it had no base, Tripura was won by filling the party with rebels from the Congress and some from the ruling Left.
The numbers tell the story adequately. In Assam, out of its 11 ministers — both cabinet and ministers of state — as many as 45 per cent are outsiders.
In Arunachal Pradesh, led by Chief Minister Pema Khandu, almost all BJP ministers are Congress rebels, and in Manipur, the situation is no different as most ministers as well as Chief Minister N. Biren Singh are from other parties.
Meanwhile, in Tripura, over 55 per cent of its cabinet ministers are those who were in the Congress, but joined the BJP in 2017.