New Delhi: No, he didn’t visit Mizoram today. Since 2014, come any election – parliamentary, assembly or even during a civic body poll – Narendra Modi would canvass for his party. He has drawn grudging praise from his critics, for always being there and being in continuous campaign mode.
But he has also drawn criticism, for the time spent as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s campaigner who has to kick in a win at any cost versus being prime minister. In those rallies, speeches and road shows, therefore, Modi is seen as not the Prime Minister. In Karnataka’s Assembly campaign, the last state elections where the Congress defeated the BJP, in seven days Modi attended 19 rallies and did six road shows.
So October 30, will go down in the history of BJP under Modi as an aberration – the one state election where Modi did not go to campaign.
Today, Modi was set to amplify BJP’s campaigning in Mizoram for the polling due on November 7. He was to cover the north-eastern state’s Mamit district and help his party drum up the support of non-Mizos residing across three assembly constituencies – Mamit, Dampa and Hachhek. This December 3, if the party can pull off a win in these three seats, and one in the Chakma areas, it can certainly bolster itself up to a position to possibly enter the next government. With the help of a friendly governor, it can piggyback on whichever regional entity takes away the cake, like it had done in Meghalaya in 2018.
Mizoram is the only state thus far in that border region where the BJP under Modi is not in the government.
If it can manage to wriggle into government, the BJP would succeed in extending its footprint across the entire Northeast.
Chief minister Zoramthanga’s snub
It was understandable then that the BJP in the state was keen to have Modi for the Mizoram polls. But Zoramthanga, the chief minister and the chief of the Mizo National Front, an ally of the BJP, refused to share the stage with the Prime Minister. He cited dozens of churches burnt in neighbouring Manipur and expressed apprehensions of a BJP government hurting the sentiments of the Christians of Mizoram who are in a majority.
As it got closer to October 30, the picture got clearer to the BJP that the man so far regarded as the grand campaigner of the party could likely end up as its biggest liability in Mizoram.
The problem lies between Modi’s role as the Prime Minister of the country and that of the grand campaigner for his party; one coming in clash with the other in that part of the country lately.
Manipur’s long shadow
In the 2022 assembly polls in Manipur, the BJP under Modi had formed its maiden government with a full majority in the state, steered by its incumbent chief minister N. Biren Singh, a reason why the central leadership couldn’t put enough pressure on him to step down even after the May 3 violence went out of hand and is yet to come under control.
That impressive Manipur win for the BJP meant a large swathe of the state’s population had pressed the button for lotus. Modi, the campaigner, had canvassed for the party; hundreds came onto the streets of Imphal that February day to show their support. It was clear that the Modi magic would work for the party. On returning to Delhi, he wrote on X (Twitter), “Grateful for the affection”.
Modi’s visit didn’t cover the hill areas of Manipur though; understandable considering his party’s primary aim was to get the backing of the state’s majority community, the Meiteis, who are spread across 40 of the 60 assembly seats.
Even though in the hills, the BJP did manage to find considerable support, it was essentially a win handed down to the party by the majority Meitei community.
However, post-May 3 violence, the Meitei community, including its BJP leadership, didn’t quite get the singular attention from Modi’s Centre it hoped for. If with the violence taking a deadly turn, the Kukis were getting more and more vocal about Modi the Prime Minister ignoring them, the Meiteis too were asking: Where is the man we voted for in large numbers? Where is the grand campaigner? With the man missing in action in a turbulent Manipur, both the affected communities, therefore, ended up seeking answers from Modi, the Prime Minister, and Modi the grand campaigner, as to why he turned his back on them.
No matter how much the party’s national and state leadership kept harping on the point to the public that he was keeping ‘a close watch’ on it from New Delhi, it was no balm to the people who have lost their family, neighbours, homes and businesses.
At such a time, the BJP went ahead and announced that Modi, even if missing from Manipur, would be found in Mizoram’s Mamit district on October 30. No wonder, the wounds in both the Kukis and the Meiteis in the neighbourhood became raw once again, necessitating the party to scramble to cancel the Modi rally, without officially citing any reason though. It announced that his place would be taken by home minister Amit Shah.
But even today, the state unit doesn’t know when would Shah land in the state.
The last-minute cancellation of the Modi rally today, even if done to avoid Modi’s visit to neighbouring Mizoram raised unanswerable questions from all sides of the bitterly divided and hurting state of Manipur about his role and that of the ‘double engine’, his absence is also shining the light on the discomfort the BJP is in, focusing on its inability to ensure, truce, control and even a semblance of law and order in a sensitive, border state where it has its own government in the state capital.
One election and one absence have been noted.