Saffron Surge in North East: Modi juggernaut expands Pan India courtesy RSSby Opinion Express April 10, 2018 0 comments
BJP spectacular show in Tripura and Nagaland has opened a door for the party ambitious plan to start GE 2019 campaign. The look east political strategy of BJP to garner over 100 lok sabha seats in order to ensure the repeat of 282+ seats in GE 2019 is well in place. With exception of Mamta Banerjee in West Bengal and Navin Patnaik in Odisha, the entire east is looking saffron. The credit of the tremendous victories must go to Modi Amit Shah duo, RSS organization, BJP clinical planning and off course access of tremendous funding.
Right from the day Modi government took over the centre: the tremendous focus on North-East has transformed the entire eco system of India’s most backward region. Gradually, the BJP is expanding in North-East state by state leading to the integration of seven sister states with the main land.
To say the BJP’s victories in the North-east, especially in Tripura, are historic seems almost like an understatement. Routing the CPM in Tripura after 25 years is an unprecedented achievement comparable only to Mamata Banerjee’s feat in dislodging the Left Front from power in Bengal after 34 years in 2011. Considering the BJP failed to win a single seat in the last assembly poll in Tripura, its tally of 40 out of 60 this time is truly spectacular. With Nagaland and probably Meghalaya also in its kitty, the BJP can now credibly claim to be a pan-India party, barring some states in the South although it hopes to wrest Karnataka from the Congress later this year.
In this context, the BJP’s success in Tripura suggests that the state’s Bengali-majority voters switched their allegiance to the BJP while the party’s sustained efforts to win over the tribal vote also paid off. The Bengali-speaking people of West Bengal and Tripura have traditionally aligned with the Communists and looked only to the Congress as a possible alternative so far. The collapse of the Congress across the country has obviously impacted voters in the East too. If the Bengalis in their homeland start to accept the BJP as their preferred option, it may bring bad tidings for Mamata Banerjee. The ascendant BJP will henceforth be vastly emboldened to mount a feisty challenge to Trinamool, first in the Lok Sabha and then the assembly polls of 2021.
What is it that the BJP had to offer to voters in Tripura? Essentially it was the assurance of change encapsulated in its election winning slogan – “Chalo Paltai” (let’s change). After 25 years, the CPM looked jaded with nothing new to offer. Impoverished voters of underdeveloped Tripura were not impressed by the fact that the otherwise popular Chief Minister Manik Sarkar was recently “crowned” the poorest Chief Minister of India. The aspirational urge gripped Tripura voters this time. And Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image as change-maker swung the polls for his party although the BJP had no local leader of Sarkar’s stature. Indeed the CPM’s empty rhetoric of ushering an egalitarian revolution sounded pathetically hollow to the new generation of voters who thought Modi was the man of the hour.
The BJP’s critics ensconced in New Delhi failed to gauge the political mood in remote Tripura and thought the cadres would yet again ensure the status quo continued. For the CPM, its decimation is now almost complete. Though it managed to trump a demoralised Congress in Kerala, Thiruvanathapuram is probably the last capital where the red flag will fly proudly. Bolstered by the BJP’s resounding victory in Tripura, the BJP will redouble its effort to first replace the Congress as the only opposition to the Left and eventually march to power in the next poll.
Beyond Tripura too, today’s poll results have made the BJP and its allies the dominant party in the North-East. With 26 seats between its seven states, which were the near monopoly of the Congress, the BJP can be expected to lap them up in 2019. This is further bad news for the Congress as it had hopes that the absence of a marked Hindu vote in these States should enable the Congress to retain its erstwhile base.
Clearly the elections in three small states of the North-East have signalled a turning point in India’s electoral map. While Amit Shah’s strategies have triumphed once more, Rahul Gandhi’s inability to work on strategies and tactics has resulted in further erosion of the party’s support base. The loss of Assam strategist Himanta Biswa Sarma has been more damaging than the Congress president could have imagined. If the Congress also loses Karnataka in the next few months, the idea of a “Congress-mukt Bharat” would be almost fully achieved, barring the odd Punjab, saved by a strong local leader.
RSS is the backbone of BJP stupendous success in North East
A disciplined cadre and abundance of resources is a must for any political party to succeed in democracy. A well oiled party machine is the basic requirement for attaining any electoral success. The hard work done by RSS in the civil society continues to pay dividends to BJP across the country. The best example of it is the marriage of civil society interests and political ambition in North East where RSS has been working from the 1970s.
It is because of this investment of time with civil society issues by RSS, that BJP has been able to build a political network in areas which is culturally and socially different to the ideological thinking of the RSS.
It is the confluence of social and cultural networking of RSS with BJP’s political and electoral machine which explains the rise of BJP as an important party in the North East.
A similar investment was made by the Congress Party during the freedom struggle. The political action was only one part of the Congress activity, the party was involved in hundreds of other civil society issues. From nation building to character building, the Congress worked on a myriad of issues, almost crafting the mindset of the Indians. It is this mental world which has been challenged by the RSS-BJP combine in the last 50 years.
To understand the success, it is important to understand the work done by the RSS in North East. To start with Arunachal Pradesh, RSS runs Arunachal Vikas Parishad in Arunachal Pradesh which in other states is known as Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram. It runs schools and maintains hostels for the students. There are thousands of RSS affiliated schools in the state alone.
The RSS runs National Integration programmes which allow students from the North East to stay with different families in different parts of India. Apart from the BJP, more than 4000 trained ‘sevaks’ work in Arunachal Pradesh who run Shakhas and other programmes which works at the level of social but impact the political mood. Apart from it, affiliated organisations run Civil Service Orientation Services.
There are programmes dedicated to students who require engineering coaching. On top of it, new Yoga Centres have also come up which focus on individual character building. Additional to this is the massive network of Bal Bari schools. Though RSS insists that it has nothing to do with the BJP but the fact is that RSS, unquestionably, has laid the ground for BJP in the North East. Central to this social action are the faceless pracharaks who devote their lives to an ideology that also ends up shaping civil society sentiments on a number of political issues.
The special focus is imparting lessons on cultural nationalism (which is debatable) and national integration which provides an alternative discourse to the civil society.
Unlike Congress of the 50’s and 60’s which was then the sole repository of nationalism, the RSS-BJP combine has shifted the axis by claiming nationalism as its own domain. Today, they claim to be the sole repository of nationalism. It has allowed them to combine culturally and socially different voices into one, like pre-colonial Congress. Congress refashioned the dominant discourse of the nation into its own image. It started before independence but was institutionalised after independence.
Earlier, the RSS-BJP too wanted to refashion the discourse of nationalism into its own image but only succeeded in the last 25 years. It is this shift which is finding an imprint in our electoral history cutting across regions. It is this worldview, aided by rapid urbanisation and consolidation of a larger Indian national identity, that is emerging as the main opposition to highly volatile, violent, dominant and majoritarian global Islam.
RSS-BJP’s intensive interaction with the civil society has also succeeded in underlining its role as the only party which unites and keep India united. Assam result broke this very myth of geographical and ideological limitations of BJP. It made them local and national at the same time.
Such has been the impact of the effort that the issue of food habit has been kept aside in the North East, and prayer houses have been built for local communities who worship elements of nature in the state.
Despite having an acrimonious relationship with Christian Missionary establishment all across India, RSS has worked both ends in the North East. It has organised non-Christian communities in their cultural realm preventing conversions and also engaged the existing non-Hindu religious establishment by sharing political space with them.
It created space in states, such as Tripura where Congress has not been able to unseat the Left for past 15 years. The BJP also hijacked the issue of illegal migration and consolidated votes in Assam on this issue, making minority votes irrelevant. For Congress to come back today, it cannot harp on the issue of alienism of BJP.
BJP has become as indigenous as Congress in the North East. RSS-BJP combine might rest on national integrity, focusing on local issues and threat which it faces from migrant populations which can change the local political axis.
Though Congress recently started a Professional Congress, it still needs people who can create a daily ritual of interaction between the worker, leader and civil society. It is through this interaction that social opinion in conjunction with political action translates into mass politics. Most of its departments are defunct today and have not functioned properly for years.
Various frontal organisations of the Congress have an episodic and politico-electoral relationship with the civil society where intimate bond with the organisation is missing. The absence of this bond further dilutes ideological underpinning of an individual. It should worry the Congress. It is for this reason that despite a massive anti-incumbency, BJP was able to retain Gujarat by a thin margin. At the end, personal bond infused with ideology does work.
(Dr. Chandan Mitra is a journalist, currently Editor of The Pioneer Group of Publications. He is also former BJP MP, Rajya Sabha.)