By Priyale Chandra
The Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) has officially begun campaigning for elections in the northeast. BJP President Amit Shah recently embarked on a three-day tour of Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura, all of whom are going to polls later this year.
Mission of ‘Congress-mukt’ Bharat
The BJP is sparing no efforts on its campaign trail. Winning the northeast remains crucial for the party. Part of it stems from the obvious. If the BJP wins these states, it will add more to the tally of BJP ruled states. However, it is not the sole reason.
All three states, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura are held by opposition parties, the Congress and the Left. Wrestling power from them will add another feather to the BJP’s cap, apart from establishing a stronger foothold for the party in the northeast. A victory will provide the BJP further ammunition against their opposition, particularly Rahul Gandhi, who has recently assumed leadership of the Congress. It will also tie into what the party leaders have described as a goal, a ‘Congress-mukt’ country.
This aim gains more importance in light of the Congress’s unexpectedly good performance in Gujarat. Winning the northeast will not just derail hopes of a revived Congress, but will also boost the confidence of the BJP itself. For the Congress, a victory will further solidify their revival and fashion them into a stronger competitor for 2019.
Struggle for the party
Any election in 2018 is seen as a roadmap to the 2019 general election. For the BJP, winning in the northeast will also help to psychologically dominate elections in states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. It is also hoping that a chance to govern before the 2019 elections will convince people to vote for them in the general election. Also, the elections give a chance to perpetuate the impression of a party elected by general consensus throughout the country, which the BJP is hoping to bank on in the 2019 elections.
The BJP is also locking horn with the Left parties, be it on the issue of nationalism or foreign policy. In places where the Left is in power, the conflict between RSS and Left workers have surged alarmingly. Tripura, which has been ruled by the Left for 25 years, is important for the BJP because it will provide a chance to beat the Left. Amit Shah is already campaigning against the Left, citing increasing law and order problem and violence against journalists as reasons for the party to be booted out. He has also mentioned the Rose Valley Scam as a point against the Left. The battle between the Left and the BJP, which is already raging on at the national level, is finding a new battleground in the Tripura elections.
Links with foreign policy
The northeast is also central to the government’s Look East policy. The BJP has doubled its efforts to improve India’s relations with its neighbours in the east. For the policy to succeed, the northeast remains vital.
Another factor is India’s relations with China. Tensions with China have been there for the past few years, with the Doklam issue and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor being major sore points. The BJP believes that to counter China, a strong presence in the northeast is needed. For the BJP, winning the northeast has implications for both their national and international policy.
The upcoming elections in the northeast will probably witness an unprecedented showdown between the BJP and its opponents. For the BJP, winning the northeast is as important as retaining the states it already governs. From 2019 elections to foreign policy, the northeast is an important mission for the BJP.