New Delhi: After three states in the northeast elected new representatives, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) continues to remain in power – either on its own or as part of alliances – in all eight states that constitute the region. While the saffron party was able to achieve a simple majority on its own in Tripura, it will form coalition governments in Meghalaya and Nagaland as the junior partner.
Since its first electoral victory in Assam in 2016, there is little doubt that the BJP has managed to make inroads into the Northeastern region – where the party has decided to sing a completely different tune from its usual campaign rhetoric. For example, with regard to issues like beef eating the party seems to have realised that except for Assam, its opposition to the practice will hamper its growth in Christian-majority states. Also, the Uniform Civil Code has no purchase in the region and is therefore not used as a campaign issue, as it was in last year’s Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh elections.
However, the party’s vote share has declined in both Tripura and Meghalaya. Indeed, the BJP has a significant presence in four states – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur and Tripura – while its vote share is in single-digits in three – Meghalaya, Mizoram and Sikkim. In Nagaland, its vote share grew by more than 3 percentage points to 18.81% in last month’s election.
It is also to be noted that regional parties and voters in the Northeast prefer to align with the party that is in power at the Centre, as they believe that this is the best way to get assistance. Therefore, party leaders are also fluid and defect from one major party to the other. In fact, the chief ministers of three states where the BJP is in power on its own – Arunachal Pradesh (Pema Khandu), Assam (Himanta Biswa Sarma) and Manipur (N. Biren Singh) – are former Congressmen.
The template for the now-infamous ‘Operation Lotus‘ – a euphemism for the BJP engineering defections – was set in Arunachal Pradesh in late 2016, when Pema Khandu helped the BJP gain power by rebelling against the Congress with a large number of MLAs. In subsequent years, this move would be replicated by the saffron party in other states like Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra – where it came to power by toppling opposition governments.