BJP fails to produce magic in NE bypolls: What's lacking?

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The BJP wave has continued to sweep mainland India. After the best ever performance in the Lok Sabha election, the saffron party has swept assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana as well. Though the party has fallen short of the majority mark in Maharashtra, but the fact that it has comprehensively beaten regional powers like Shiv Sena and NCP shows how much high it is rising in Indian politics at the moment.

BJP failed in NE bypolls

But the scenario is just the opposite in the northeast where the BJP lost in the bypolls in three states, namely, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland. The party had fielded candidates in the three seats that went to the bypolls in these states but lost in all of them.

While the party lost to the Congress in Kanubari seat of Arunachal Pradesh by 885 votes, it finished third after the Congress and Trinamool Congress in Hiyanglam seat of Manipur (total votes 6,306). In Nagaland's Northern Angami-II seat, the BJP lost to its ally Nagaland People's Front by 3,045 votes. One wonders why the BJP decided to field a candidate in Nagaland against its own ally. May be the party tried to make its own mark in the state, as it has been doing in many of the bigger states.

BJP got stuck in Assam

But in all, the BJP has not succeeded in making the same impact in the northeast, barring Assam. The Congress, despite its rapid collapse in other parts of the country, still leads the BJP in this part of the country. In the Lok Sabha election held in April-May, the Congress won 13 out of 24 seats in the northeast while the BJP and its allies could bag 10. It was only in Assam where the BJP surprised many by winning seven out of 14 seats.

If it has done well in Assam, why the BJP didn't succeed to the same extent in the other northeastern states? In Assam, the BJP has gained from the polarisation along communal, tribal and caste lines. The issue of Bangladeshi infiltration and the presence of AIUDF in Assam helped the BJP to make a mark, thanks to the polarisation.

BJP's cultural nationalism isn't effective in NE

But the story is not the same in other northeastern states where the socio-political realities are extremely complex and the BJP doesn't enjoy a natural appeal among the voters. The saffron party's inclination towards cultural nationalism isn't a sound currency in this part of the country where the Congress's legacy still rules strongly.

The grand-old party's top leadership, starting from Jawaharlal Nehru, have always maintained a physical proximity with the northeast and the long presence of the Congress representatives in these states have helped them bargain with the Centre. And above everything, the Congress's Nehruvian legacy speaking about a centrist political style has helped the northeast remain a strong bastion of the party.

Dealing attacks on NE people strongly can be a good option for BJP to bridge gap

The BJP has been a more culturally homogenous entity and since the northeast is not a fertile land for Hindutva politics owing to cultural, social and religious reasons, the BJP naturally hasn't been able to produce the same magic despite the Modi wave engulfing the rest of the country. The party has to bank on development as the main weapon to make inroads throughout the northeast but its elected leaders must not try to force anything on the people and communities of these parts.

Development in NE is key for national security but it can't be forced upon

Development of the northeastern states is also key for the sake of national security and since the BJP is expected to stay in the Centre for a fairly long time now, the onus lies on the Narendra Modi government to try means to bridge the gap with the northeast. The repeated attacks on people from the region might also serve an opportunity to the party to get closer to the northeast's heart by taking on the menace with iron hands. The idea of securing the NE's interests in connection to uranium mining can also be utilised by the Centre.

But whatever it is, the BJP-led government at the Centre can not afford to overlook the northeast just because they have smaller number of seats. Elections are key but there is a field greater to that in politics.

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