The BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke into celebrations on Thursday as the widely “Hindi-Hindu” party deepened its footprint in the Northeast, retaining power in Tripura and Nagaland and bettering its performance in Meghalaya.
The result in the latest round of Assembly polls came as a big boost for the BJP’s efforts to build on the ideological inroads it has made in the largely non-Hindi-Hindu region as it readies for a bunch of state elections this year followed by the Lok Sabha polls next year.
Retaining Tripura, though with a majorly reduced margin — winning just a simple majority of 33 out of 60 seats — was the high point of the election results in the three northeastern states.
The slender victory in Tripura, however, was described as “big and historic” by BJP leaders as the party managed to retain power in the state bordering Bangladesh, overcoming anti-incumbency and the challenge posed by a CPM-Congress alliance and a new tribal outfit, the Tipra Motha.
Modi said the poll results had demolished the Opposition’s propaganda of “spreading fear of the BJP” among the minorities and claimed that now the party would take power in Kerala along with its allies.
Addressing party workers, Modi attacked the Left and the Congress for striking an alliance in Tripura while fighting each other in Kerala. “Ek rajya mein dosti aur dusre mein kushti (Friendship in one state and wrestling in the other),” he said.
“The Left and the Congress have a pact and they are looting the people of Kerala,” Modi said and added: “Now a BJP alliance government will be formed in Kerala, too.”
Highlighting Christians were in majority in Nagaland and Meghalaya, Modi showcased the poll performance of the BJP in the two states as acceptance of the party by the minority community.
Union home minister Amit Shah tweeted, stressing the significance of the Northeast and Tripura for the party: “A historic day for the Northeast. I thank Tripura for placing trust in BJP once again.”
Despite the northeastern states having very little influence on national politics in terms of numbers, they hold ideological significance for the BJP as a good performance here helps the party shed its image of being a “Hindi-Hindu” outfit limited to the heartland.
Making inroads in states like Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram, which are dominated by Christians and tribals, is a key ideological project of the Hindutva party.
Though Tripura is a Hindu-majority state, its importance stands out since it had been dominated for 25 years by a rival ideology represented by the Left Front before the BJP swept to power in 2018.
Traditional rivals in the state, the CPM and the Congress, had joined hands this time to defeat the BJP but the saffron camp managed to ride past it and retain power.
In Nagaland, the BJP as junior partner with regional outfit NDPP returned to power with a comfortable majority, winning 37 seats in the 60-member Assembly.
“I thank the people of Nagaland from the bottom of my heart for choosing peace and progress by re-electing the PM Modi-led NDA back in power,” Shah tweeted.
Though most northeastern states have traditionally been known for drifting towards the party ruling the country, still it’s a big achievement for the BJP given its typical Hindutva image and campaign against beef eating elsewhere. Beef eating is normal in many northeastern states.
The BJP’s expansion in the Northeast started post2014 under Modi. The first big gain came when the party won Assam in 2016, followed by Tripura in 2018. Thereafter, the party moved aggressively to win over regional outfits and bring them under the umbrella body of the NEDA (Northeast Democratic Alliance), edging out the Congress from almost all the states in the region.