The North-east, as a whole, did not give any decisive mandate in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but not remained untouched by the so-called Modi Wave either. Besides winning seven out of the 14 seats in Assam, the party won a seat in Arunachal Pradesh and had allies winning three others. Going by his third consecutive term as chief minister, Naga People’s Front (NPF) chief Neiphiu Rio winning the state’s lone Lok Sabha seat is no wonder. But NPF making inroads into the Outer Manipur constituency is something may not have been possible without the strength of BJP working behind him. Although the NPF had the advantage of a substantial Naga population in the constituency of Manipur, the party surely rode on the strong anti-incumbency wave against the UPA government, thanks to Rahul Gandhi’s pathetic leadership. In Arunachal Pradesh, however, the BJP’s victory was powered by Kiren Rijiju’s strong image having represented the party in the parliament earlier too.
The saffron party has inherent reasons for not being able to penetrate the hill states where Christians are in majority. But the 16th Lok Sabha election results can be viewed as a major shift in the voting pattern. The Christian majority tribals too opted for the BJP. In Shillong parliamentary constituency, the BJP candidate Shibun Lyngdoh polled maximum votes in four of the seven assembly constituencies in the capital besides winning one in his home district of East Jaintia Hills. Although Shillong being a cosmopolitan city it was easier for the Modi Wave to catch people’s mind, there are definite signs of even indigenous tribals going the BJP way ignoring its saffron tag. Both the Congress and the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) could not help but express shock over the BJP’s stunning performance. Both the rival parties expressed ‘worries’ at the trend, obviously trying to woo the Christian majority voters. But this style of campaigning against BJP would not work anymore, if the Modi-led government did not let the country down as had done by the last two terms of UPA led by a “spineless” Prime Minister.
The plight of Congress in Assam is such that the party could win only three seats, all dominated by either tribal or minority voters, meaning it was BJP and not Congress who secured most of the “secular votes”. This new trend has given the BJP a strong hope to bring in its first “genuine” government in the North-east when Assam goes to polls in 2016. The hope is strengthened by the total elimination of regional forces like the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP). The first time the saffron party had ruled any NE state, albeit for a few months, was when the then Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Gegong Apang merged his MLAs with the BJP in 2003, only to return to Congress after NDA lost power in 2004. The party’s future in the North-east depends a lot on as to how the majority Christians of the hills states view it in the coming five years.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on May 24)