The Bharatiya Janata Party today made history by planting its flag in two of the three northeast states that went to the polls in February. In Tripura, the BJP ousted the Communist Party of India (Marxist) - CPI (M), which had ruled the state for 25 years, and in Nagaland, the nationalist party is poised to take power in a Christian-majority state.
The final results were still to be declared when this article was published, but the BJP was on course for victories in Tripura and Nagaland, where the electoral battle was for 59 state Assembly seats, while Meghalaya (60 seats) appeared to be heading towards a hung assembly.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah claimed victory on Saturday, the BJP together with its regional ally in Nagaland, the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP), had a comfortable lead over its former ally, the ruling Naga People's Front (NPF).
In Tripura, the BJP and its regional ally, the Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT), had surged ahead of the CPI(M)-led Left front.
In a jibe at Manik Sarkar, who will resign as the chief minister of Tripura, BJP's chief strategist in the northeast, Himant Biswa Sarma, said, "Manik Sarkar has just three options before him. He can go to West Bengal, where the CPI-M still has some presence. He can go to Kerala, where the party is in power and will rule for three more years or he can go to neighboring Bangladesh."
Sarkar, often referred to as the 'poorest chief minister' of the country, was leading from his constituency of Dhanpur when this article was published, and he appeared to be on course to winning a fifth term in the Assembly.
The BJP's victories are truly astounding if one takes into account that the saffron party did not win a single seat in the 2013 Assembly polls in Tripura and garnered a mere 1.54 percent of the vote share. In Nagaland, the BJP won one seat and had 1.8 percent of the vote share in the previous state polls.
While congratulating his party on its performance, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, "2018 Tripura election will be remembered as an epoch-making one! What my sisters and brothers of Tripura have done is extraordinary."
"The historic victory in Tripura is as much an ideological one. It is a win for democracy over brute force and intimidation. Today peace and non-violence has prevailed over fear. We will provide Tripura the good government that the state deserves," he said.
The victory of @BJP4Tripura is not an ordinary electoral victory. This journey from 'Shunya' to 'Shikhar' has been made possible due to a solid development agenda and the strength of our organisation. I bow to every BJP Karyakarta for working assiduously on the ground for years.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) March 3, 2018
Shah meanwhile took a dig at Congress Party president who is spending Holi with his maternal grandmother in Italy. "Mujhe WhatsApp pe message aaya hai ki Italy mein chunaav hai (I received a message on WhatsApp that elections are on in Italy)," he said.
My Nani is 93. She's the kindest soul ever. This Holi weekend, I'm going to surprise her! I can't wait to give her a hug.... #HappyHoli to all of you. Have a joyful celebration..— Office of RG (@OfficeOfRG) March 1, 2018
The results in Meghalaya, however, were far from decisive. While the Congress Party emerged as the single largest party, the Conrad Sangma-led National People's Party (NPP) together with the BJP were on course to winning an almost equal number of seats.
Sangma told the Press Trust of India, "We are hopeful that we will be able to form the government. People are fed up with the corrupt Congress government and looking for a change."
While the NPP ran separately from the BJP in Meghalaya, it is part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and its North-East Democratic Alliance, a political coalition formed in 2016.
BJP's Ram Madhav said, "In Meghalaya, a divided result is a possibility. We will see that a non-Congress government is formed there."
In his remarks to the media, senior Congress Party leader Ashok Gehlot attempted to downplay BJP's victories. "It's not a new thing for the northeast. They always shift to the party in Centre. BJP has nothing to be proud of," he said.
It is worth pointing out that the BJP swept Nagaland even though the Nagaland Baptist Church Council, which exerts considerable influence in the Christian-majority state, had strongly opposed it.
In an open letter, the religious organization said, "We cannot deny that the Hindutva movement in the country has become unprecedentedly strong and invasive in the last few years with BJP, the political wing of RSS, in power."
"God must be weeping when Naga politicians are running after those who seek to destroy Christianity in India," it said.
Even though the majority of the candidates are Christian in any Assembly election in Nagaland, the BJP went into the election bearing an anti-Christian image. In the past few years, ever since the Modi government came to power in May 2014, religious leaders of the minority community have raised concerns about attacks against Christians and churches by right-wing groups.
In Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, both ruled by the BJP, Hindutva organizations interfered in Christmas celebrations last year, while President Ram Nath Kovind ended the longstanding tradition of singing carols in the Rashtrapati Bhavan. While some have argued that removing all religious ceremonies was necessary to ensure that the Rashtrapati Bhavan is a truly secular space, others found it to be an unnecessary snub to the Christians, who constitute just 2.3 percent of the population.
When it came to the BJP's stand of zero tolerance against cow slaughter, in a move widely that was widely derided as hypocritical, its leaders in the northeast were quick to publicize that no such restriction would be in place in the Christian-majority states of Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram.
Last year, Nagaland's BJP chief Visasolie Lhoungu said, "Ban on cow slaughter like the one in UP won't take effect in Nagaland if our party comes to power next year. The reality here is very different and our central leaders are aware of that."
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