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The plan, the numbers, the strategy: How the BJP plans to sweep the North East

by IRC-ADMIN - Aug 1 2014 12:00AM

The political fortune of the country's oldest political party is gradually crumbling in the face of the quiet but firm surge of its rival Bharatiya Janata Party in the region.

The political fortune of the country's oldest political party is gradually crumbling in the face of the quiet but firm surge of its rival Bharatiya Janata Party in the region. Isolated from mainland India and neglected for long, the political exile for North East India is not only cultural and geographical but also because of low number of seats in Lok Sabha. Comprising all the seven states of—Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura—the region offers only 24 seats in total. However, fresh from its LS mandate, the BJP under the command of a new party chief Amit Shah has its eyes set squarely on all 24, irrespective of their demographic details and political inclination. Readying new frontiers. Reuters Readying new frontiers. Reuters Addressing party workers at the BJP National Council Meeting in New Delhi on 9 August, Shah said, "We must form our governments whenever elections are held... To realize this objective, we should make BJP'scs effective presence felt in each and every village Panchayat, Zilla Parishad, municipal Corporations and other elected bodies." Till recently the low number of seats in the NE region failed to attract major political parties and Congress, which already had a base in most of these NE states owing to its 'oldest party tag', ruled the roost for decades. Before the Lok Sabha polls this year, Arunachal East MP Ninong Ering had told Firstpost during an interview, "Congress has been in power throughout all these years in Arunachal Pradesh. People in Arunachal Pradesh are only familiar with the Gandhi and Nehru family." Arunachal Pradesh Congress chief and former chief minister Mukut Mithi had said, "There is no Narendra Modi wave anywhere leave alone Arunachal Pradesh." Yet the BJP even upped its tally in the Assembly from three to 11 this year. Ering's colleague from 15th Lok Sabha Takam Sanjoy lost his Arunachal West seat to BJP candidate Kiren Rijuju. Rijuju is now the minister of state for home affairs. "The people want us to perform the role of a constructive opposition and we will do so. Prior to the Lok Sabha polls, hundreds of people had joined our ranks here, and we are now concentrating on strengthening our organisation at the grass-roots level," BJP general secretary Tapir Gao told the Economic Times. The story is similar in Assam where the BJP party won upper Assam seats like Dibrugarh, Tinsukia and Lakhimpur which have traditionally remained strong Congress bastions for decades and created a record of sorts by winning seven out of 14. Not contended with the triumph in the recent General Elections, the BJP has already started preparing for the state's 2016 Assembly polls. The party has already started enrolling new members and training them to get ready for the Assembly polls. According to a Economic Times story: "'Approximately 10,000 cadres will undergo training by the end of August,' said Ranjit Das, a senior BJP leader in Assam. 'During training, they are taught the core principles of BJP, the importance of nationalism, humanism and other aspects of micromanagement. This training is presently on everywhere in all the districts.'" The precarious position in which the Congress finds itself in the state is already worrying the party. The party won merely three seats in this Lok Sabha poll, down from seven. "We already have minimal presence in Lower Assam and this episode (mutiny in the party) has eroded our base even in Upper Assam. We are not expecting good results in 2016 Assembly polls in Upper Assam," Congress spokesperson Kishor Bhattacharyya had told Firstpost in July this year. The BJP's prospects in the state will also get a boost as the Bodoland People's Front which had not too long snapped ties with the Congress and withdrew from the government. Although there is no formal tie-up, the regional outfit might loosely align itself with the lotus. BPF's anger with the Congress-run state government can be measured from what BPF secretary Prabin Boro told Firstpost earlier, "We always have goodwill for the BJP because of Advani. We are a regional force and we will have to go to a national party for our needs. We know that if we maintain a good relationship with the BJP, it will help BTAD and keep the cash flow on to BTC for the development of the area. But this does not mean we will have an alliance with the BJP for the 2016 assembly polls. We have the BTC elections in 2015 before that." In the land of Loktak and Sangai, ie., Manipur, the Congress managed to retain the two seats in Lok Sabha. Not disappointed by the defeat, its rival BJP has added more impetus to its efforts to make an impression in the state. The ET reports: "About 20-30 people are joining the BJP every day even in a small state such as Manipur, said the party's state president Chaoba Singh. "We are getting people from different communities - Muslims, Christians and Hindus - and we are integrating them all for development of the state as a whole," he said." Buried under problems like its border issues with Myanmar, frequently being held to ransom by Naga bodies, the countless secessionist groups and AFSPA, Manipur is desperately looking for change -- which makes it a perfect target for the BJP. "It is possible to lift the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) if we have good governance. If it is possible in Jammu and Kashmir at least partially why can't we do that in Manipur? We do not have a conflict like situation they have in Jammu and Kashmir. The Congress government in the state and at the Centre have failed to deal with the situation," Manipur BJP general secretary M Asnikumar Singh had told Firstpost from Imphal before Lok Sabha election. "Narendra Modi is reaching out to the people of Manipur. People in the state want him to be the prime minister. They have a strong faith in him," Asnikumar had said. The Congress may be holding on, but if Modi performs well as prime minister, the people of the state won't mind a rethink in the next polls whenever they are due. In the state of Meghalaya, which has two LS seats, BJP has former Meghalaya chief minister, former Lok Sabha speaker and National People's Party (India) chief Purno Agitok Sangma to lean on. Coming out of political hibernation, Sangma won the state's Tura seat in Garo Hills. His party is part of the National Democratic Alliance and is the only mentionable presence of the BJP-led coalition. Vincent Pala of the Congress retained his Shillong seat in the Lok Sabha polls. However, other than that the BJP has a negligible organisational base and needs to beef it up enormously. The condition of the party is not up to par in the states of Mizoram and Nagaland which has one Lok Sabha seat respectively. A BJP leader in Guwahati told Economic Times about his party's position in Nagaland. "We will crack them soon enough and in time, but it's just that we are tackling one state after another and it takes time," he said. Reporting about the state of affairs in the BJP, the Economic Times quoted the state BJP chief Lalhuna as saying, "In Christianity dominated Mizoram, we are up against a massive propaganda that the BJP is anti-Christian, which is not true at all. We are countering it, but it will take some time. We have already made inroads among the Buddhists and we are confident of having more than 20,000 members very soon." Under an effective Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, Tripura continues to be a stronghold of the Left but BJP managed to make some inroads by winning 141 of the 6,111 seats in the 15 July gram panchayat polls. According to Economic Times, the BJP also "won a majority in five gram panchayats for the first time in the state". Ironic though it may sound, "another indicator of the BJP taking roots in the state is the growing number of alleged attacks on its party workers by Left Front members". The same report said that about 30,000 people have joined the BJP. But as the saffron party and more so its leader well knows, Rome wasn't built in one day, but one brick at a time. Or in this case, one zila parishad at a time.

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