Narendra Modi’s rally in Guwahati is all set to pull thousands in Guwahati on Saturday. But the number of spectators and the Modi charisma are not just sufficient for the BJP to claim grounds in the Northeast. Notwithstanding the anti-incumbency wave against the Congress, after three consecutive terms at the Centre, no other national parties have so far penetrated into the grassroots in the Northeastern states. Though the BJP is still the ruling partner in Nagaland and had been in power in the Himalayan state of Arunachal Pradesh for a short period, the biggest national party after Congress has failed to catch people’s imagination in most parts of the region. A few pockets of Assam are an exception because the saffron party could take advantage of its pro-Hindu image in those areas.
It’s not only the BJP, but other parties with their roots outside the region also made their debut in the electoral politics of North-east. The BJP did a stunning debut in Arunachal Pradesh to wrest power in 2003, only to the last for a few months. During the same year, the party won as many as seven seats in Nagaland where the party is still far from building a grassroots base. The then BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was the core driving force behind all these political upsets in the region. The NDA’s shocking humiliation, thanks to its India Shining campaign, had its immediate effect in Arunachal where the chief minister Gegong Apang did not hesitate to take back his flock once again to their old abode, Congress. A ruling party, albeit for a few months, is now reduced to the strength three MLAs in the 60-member House. In Nagaland, the NDA tag still exists in the Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) government, but the party had to be content with a lone MLA in the last election.
Barring Assam, voters in the hills states have so far been loyal either to the Congress or regional parties. While the people appear to support the Congress as a party the regional parties have been getting mandate based on local issues. Other parties, national or semi-national, have won seats on personal influence. PA Sangma leading newly-formed Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to win 14 seats in Meghalaya assembly in 2008 says proves beyond doubt that party loyalty does not always decides the votes. Grassroots support, which needs years to develop, does not often decide the fate of political parties. It is not the political parties but the personalities or particular agenda that win seats for parties such as NCP, Trinamool Congress, JD(U). Some other parties such as Lok Janasakti Party (LJP) and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) have also been able to persuade failed or sidelined political leaders of Congress or regional parties to work under their banner in the Northeast.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on February 7, 2004)