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Modi trains sights on Northeast

New Delhi, Feb. 8: The BJP hopes to resurrect its presence in the Northeast following Narendra Modi’s Saturday blitz.

Modi addressed meetings in Imphal and Guwahati today and is expected to cover the capitals of the remaining states shortly, with Arunachal Pradesh heading the list.

Few recall that the BJP had once done well in the Assam elections, headed a government in Arunachal Pradesh and backed a Samata Party (the JD(U)’s previous avatar) government in Manipur. The NDA ruled at the Centre at that time.

But since being voted out of power in New Delhi in 2004, the BJP has failed to regain the footprints it had stamped over parts of the Northeast.

Asked why Modi was focusing on a region whose predominant demographic make-up did not exactly favour the BJP — there is a dominant Christian population — a party source said: “This is Modi’s agenda. He wants to cultivate a pan-Indian image on the back of the governance and development planks.

“You may say he is redefining nationalism so that the idea goes beyond the RSS’s conventional definition that essentially addresses the Hindus.”

This was the reason Modi specifically mentioned that the Northeast has a big population of English speakers and there was need to integrate their linguistic skills with the development trajectory by setting up call centres in the region and giving them jobs. He also stressed that it was important to end the sense of “isolation” Northeast residents often feel.

When the NDA was in power, the then alliance convener and Samata Party president George Fernandes was the BJP’s pathway to the Northeastern states other than Assam. Fernandes was networked with the Church leaders of the Christian-majority states, but they had looked askance at him when he white-washed an official probe report on the murder of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two young sons by a Bajrang Dal activist.

In 2001, the BJP MLAs toppled the Samata government in Manipur. Then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee told Fernandes the BJP’s writ did not run over the MLAs because most were defectors. But the episode caused the first serious breach in the BJP-Samata equations.

The party has since only had an alliance with the Asom Gana Parishad in the 2009 election when the BJP picked up four seats and the AGP one, and was part of the Nagaland government led by the Naga People’s Front since 2003. That partnership is over now.

Modi was criticised for not once stepping into Mizoram before the December elections when he unrelentingly barnstormed the four other states that went to the polls.

“Maybe he should have addressed a meeting at Aizawl. It seems he wants to recompense that absence,” an office-bearer said.