The heady victory of the BJP across the states of the northeast in Lok Sabha 2019, where it won 18 out of 24 seats, is stunning — but not surprising.
It is not for no reason that the ‘seven sisters’ became ‘Ashtalakshmi’ in the BJP’s dictionary soon after the results of the Lok Sabha Elections were announced back in 2014.
Assam sends 14 MPs to Parliament; Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Tripura and Manipur send two MPs each; Sikkim, Nagaland and Mizoram have one seat each in the Lok Sabha.
The BJP never saw these as individual seats — it treated the northeast as a bloc which can fetch 24 seats straight.
In 2014, when the party bagged eight seats out of 24, it knew that the strategy to turn this eight into 18 lies elsewhere. Having no roots in the area, the party couldn't go into the thick of things of each of these eight states.
Instead, it had to identify some easy catches which, in turn, could paint the northeast saffron.
1.). BJP’s main man: Himanta Biswa Sharma
An ex-Congressman, who now serves as the main man of the BJP in the entire northeast, is Himanta Biswa Sharma. Poaching him in 2015 was the battle half won for the BJP. Himanta even had a memorable Twitter fight with Rahul Gandhi for the latter’s apparent apathy to the region, and to him.
A bhoomiputra on the one hand and an RSS exponent (Ram Madhav) on the other — this was the starting recipe for the BJP's success in the northeast.
So, it was only a matter of time for the BJP that Assam would walk into its territory once it had Himanta in its fold.
But Himanta was not given a Lok Sabha ticket this time.
Why? Because the BJP needed him on the ground before the polls — especially after the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 started eroding some of the BJP’s gains in the northeast.
Amit Shah's main men in the Northeast: One, a bhoomiputra, the other, an RSS exponent. (Photo: PTI)
2.). Acting fast
One needs regional alliances, but this has to be institutionalised with tact in the northeast, in order to ameliorate the feeling of always been short-shifted.
The early bird catches the worm.
The BJP understood this long ago. In 2016, it formed a political coalition with the Naga People’s Front, Sikkim Democratic Front, People’s Party of Arunachal, Asom Gana Parishad and Bodoland People’s Front. Himanta Biswa is the convener of this North-East Democratic Alliance.
There have been newer tie-ups and breakups in the NEDA in the last three years. The CAB was a flaring point as well.
But Ram Madhav, the BJP’s in-charge of the northeast, and Himanta soon papered over things and stitched an alliance in March with the Asom Gana Parishad, Bodoland Peoples Front (BPF), Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT), National People’s Party, Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party and the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha.
3.). Jati-mati-bheti: Changed stance on CAB
The BJP’s trajectory in the northeast can be divided into two distinct phases — before and after the Citizenship Amendment Bill.
The phase after is marked by protests and resentment over the CAB. Even the BJP government in Arunachal protested the Bill.
Close to the elections, the BJP softened its stance on the CAB. In fact, it steered clear of any mention of the thorny issue in the election campaign in an attempt to impress the fact on voters that the focus of jati-mati-bheti (community, land, home) was right there.
Celebrating the Northeast: When 'Act East' matters more than 'Look East'. (Photo: PTI)
4.). Northeast links mostly with the Centre
Going by the electoral history of the northeast, mostly, it wants to be with the Centre because of financial and security reasons.
Yes, there are exceptions. In 1977, the Congress government in Assam did not join the Janata Party in the Centre while the Arunachal Pradesh Congress merged with the Janata Party.
5.). Infrastructure: Roads and Bogibeel bridge
What's the point of looking east if you don't set things in motion? PM Narendra Modi replaced 'Look East' with 'Act East' — be it the completion of the Bogibeel bridge or the slew of road projects across the region, the Modi government reaped the benefits.
According to reports, a total of Rs 1,66,026 crores was sanctioned for construction of over 10,000 km of roads in eight states under the National Highways Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited.
An additional Rs 7,000 crore has been approved for an 850km stretch under the National Highway Authority of India. The ministry of road transport and highways has also sanctioned Rs 17,257 crore for respective state Public Works Departments for the construction of roads in the entire region.
Clearly, roads that led to victory.