The BJP’s success, on its own in Tripura and as a junior alliance partner in Nagaland and Meghalaya, are invaluable to Mr Modi
The results of the recently-concluded Assembly elections in the three Northeast states of Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya deliver an important message to the extraordinary diversity of voters and their complicated allegiances and cultures across India — that the Bharatiya Janata Party is as inclusive as it is tolerant of the many differences; that it is truly representative of the nation in all its fragments. The Northeast election results contain just the antidote the BJP needs to the relentless campaign of the Opposition, that it is a party of bigots who peddle Hindutva and identity politics to create social divisions and destroy the communal harmony of India.
At a time when multiple voices are being heard demanding that the strategically silent Prime Minister Narendra Modi speak out so that the attacks on the minorities and hate speeches cease, winning in the three Northeast states, particularly so in Nagaland and Meghalaya, which have large Christian populations, is just what Mr Modi and the BJP need. These victories show that people in 87 per cent Christian Nagaland and 74.59 per cent Meghalaya are comfortable voting in regional parties that have now been long-time allies of the BJP. The wins also convey a message to the Christian world, that Narendra Modi is a credible, popular leader who is trusted by the people in Nagaland and Meghalaya.
Exactly how is best illustrated by the BJP’s results in Meghalaya; it won just two seats out of the 60 seats in the state Assembly. Worse, its state party boss Ernest Mawrie was defeated. Yet, in Meghalaya and across the country, Ernest Mawrie is not really a loser; he was the man who declared “I eat beef”, and added that in Meghalaya, beef was a part of the tradition and culture of the people.
He is, despite his failure, just the ambassador the BJP needs to impact voter perceptions that the party is as inclusive of diversity as it is tolerant of differences.
Winning in the Northeast is therefore crucial to the BJP and Mr Modi, as they prepare to face the challenge of the 2024 general election. It will be Mr Modi’s bid for a third term. And, regardless of how dismissive Mr Modi and his party may be of the spectre of anti-incumbency, there is no getting away from the fact that sections of India’s voters, most significantly the youth and educated youth, farmers and migrant workers have their grievances. There is also the Adani financial mess in which the Congress and the rest of the Opposition, the world’s financial leaders and bankers and of course the international media, have turned the needle of suspicion and pointed it straight at the relationship between Prime Minister Modi and Gautam Adani.
The BJP is fully conscious of how some voters will be affected by the seeping stink emanating from the dubious doings of the Adani Group and its connections to the present ruling establishment in New Delhi. The party is equally aware that millions of young voters have been added to the lists during the two terms that Mr Modi has headed the Central government. The party will be correct to feel some anxiety that it may be less popular now than it was in 2014 and 2019, when Mr Modi received massive endorsements for being the man who would transform India.
Pundits who pore over the election results to see the changes in voter preference, sometimes very obvious and sometimes a complicated and fragmented judgment, can spend a great deal of time in looking at the details of the BJP’s win in Tripura along with its ally, the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura. They would note that its vote share and seats in the Assembly have tapered. They can also consider the emergence of Tipra Motha, led by erstwhile Congress leader Pradyot Bikram Manikya Deb Barma, as a new player in the crowded political space, and its impact on community equations in volatile Tripura.
There is the fact that the tireless Mr Modi is the face that wins elections for the BJP, be it in the three Northeast states that delivered a verdict in the recent elections or in Gujarat, a state he ruled till he became Prime Minister in 2014.
There is another fact; that the Congress is a loser in elections. Despite the organisational changes and the successful sentimental connections revived by Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra, it is also a fact that the Congress, currently, seems clueless on how to consolidate itself and win over sceptics and non-Congress voters, which is necessary if the party is committed to challenging Mr Modi for real in 2024.
While Narendra Modi may be the star and the image of a nation unified by a charismatic leader of a successful government, the other fact is that Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma is the BJP’s real point man in the Northeast. Managing the subtleties of Northeast identity politics with its fluidities and varied inflection points requires a skilled political functionary. The Congress’ loss of Mr Sarma was certainly the best thing that happened to the BJP in the Northeast.
As much as the BJP needs to capture new voters in new territories to offset potential losses among voters in what are its strongholds, it needs to build a social coalition that transcends the self-imposed limits of its virulent majoritarian agenda of nationalism. The Minority Front of the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have also weighed in, because the BJP understands that it needs to add voters to the already committed ones.
The BJP’s success, on its own in Tripura and as a junior alliance partner in Nagaland and Meghalaya, are invaluable to Mr Modi as he hobnobs with world leaders as the G-20 chair in 2023 or at Quad meetings.
Without wasting one word, the election results have demonstrated that he, his government and his party have the approval of a minority community, albeit Christians in states where they are in a majority. The results cement the BJP’s assertion that the party is most representative of the diversity that is India. It has at the same time demonstrated that the Congress is not a winner and is not the only party that can represent this diversity.