Around three decades ago Bharatiya Janata Party was non-existent in the North East. Not just that – only the very optimistic in the saffron party gave it even an outside chance to ever rule the troubled area where ethnicity conflicts and demand for secession from India was the only ‘manifesto’ common among militant groups operating in the “seven sister” states.
With the sole honourable exception of Arunachal Pradesh, the entire area had scores of secessionist underground groups which caused much bloodshed, and kept security forces on tenterhooks. The north east actually remained in news because of the violent incidents and ‘outsiders’ – those from other parts of the country – were not welcomed. Sikkim was then not a part of the North Eastern Council.
It was during that period that the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) began its journey to plant roots in the region. Despite hostility from the locals, several volunteers began cultivating sections of people without getting into the limelight. They befriended opinion makers, media persons and intellectuals. This writer, who remained posted in the region in the late 80s, was invited to meet from time to time some of these pracharaks including the current head of the RSS, Mohan Bhagwat and one of his well known predecessors, Raju bhayia.
The sustained efforts have finally paid of with the BJP a part of the government in all but one of these states – Mizoram.
While it stunned the nation in 2016 by capturing power in Assam, by far the largest of the north eastern states, its recent victory in Tripura was more spectacular, emphatic and symbolic of the advent of the saffron party in the region.
Assam, like the other north eastern states, has predominantly remained under the hold of the Congress. In the other smaller states of the region  it had remained pitted against regional parties which were known for splits and mergers with other state parties.
Largely unknown to the rest of the country, the region had been creating political history. Some of the interesting ‘pathbreaking’ political initiatives in the region included a pact between two leaders to head the government for two years and a half each. It happened in Meghalaya with Capt Williamson Sangma and B B Lyngdoh splitting the term. It is also the region where all MLAs, including those from other regional parties and Independents, joined hands to form a no-opposition government (Nagaland) as a large happy family and where toppling chief ministers is a common game. For instance, Meghalaya saw five chief minister during the last five years.
Assam remained dominated by the Congress, although some regional parties did have their presence, till the All Assam Students Union (AASU) transformed into Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) to contest elections and wrest power from the Congress in 1985 propelled by struggle for regional identity.
That’s when the RSS began its silent advent in the region and started to work on its mission. Given the fact that Assam was Hindu dominated, barring the tribal dominated areas like Karbi Anglong, its task was easier because of the local resistance to Bengali Muslims immigrants to the state. Even as the RSS, and the BJP, bided time and gained strength at the grassroots level, the huge disappointment with the AGP and the Congress, provided it the vacuum to gain power in that state.
It had, in the meantime, started penetrating the other north eastern states by adopting a different approach. Instead of trying to stand on its own, it sought to set up alliances or backed regional parties. It made it a point to not oppose their traditions or eating habits, including consumption of beef, and thought it prudent to let the regional parties remain in the limelight keeping itself in low profile. With this strategy it spread its wing in the region where Christian dominated Mizoram is the sole exception to remain out of its influence and continues to be with the Congress.
However, its resounding victory in Tripura is the most significant. The Bengali dominated state had remained under the influence of the Left for the past four dacades. With the exception of a one-term rule by the Congress during 1988-93, it had been governed by the CPM since 1978. The last four terms were under Manik Sarkar, the ‘poorest’ chief minister in the country who deposited all his salary to the party headquarters and was paid just Rs 5,000 per month to meet his household expenses !
But even then he could not beat the austere way of living of his mentor, former state chief minister Nripen Chakraborty, who lost the 1988 election to Congress. As he moved out of the Chief Minister’s residence, and this writer was an eyewitness to the event, he carried just two steel trunks with him. One carried half a dozen dhoti-kurtas while the other carried his books.
But the remarkable self example set by Manik Sarkar was not enough to grant him the fifth term as anti incumbency had set in and expectations of the people, particularly the youth, had changed dramatically. These youth were either not born, or were too young, to have witnessed gory massacres as the CPM government tackled insurgency and brought it under control. The younger generation was now more concerned with jobs and educational facilities with the opening up of the world through advent of internet.
Though there were no allegations of corruption and impropriety against the chief minister, such allegations against some of his colleagues had begun to emerge.
This can, however, not take away the credit from the strategy and hard work put in by the RSS and the BJP government at the Centre in wresting power in the communist stronghold. Preparations to take Tripura had been on for the last four years and all its energies were focused on the state after the victory in Assam.
Even as the Congress appeared to have given up all hopes on Tripura, BJP worked relentlessly on creating cadres and strategising a victory. An example on how the BJP took the state seriously was the fact that no less than 52 central ministers visited the state during the last couple of years. There are reports that the idea was to get at least two Union ministers per month who would offer projects to the state and also point out how the state government was “not utilising” the central grants. The Congress too helped it by virtually absenting itself from the state and losing its vote share from over 40 per cent in last Assembly elections to less than 2 per cent while BJP took it from less than 2 per cent to over 51 per cent.
As it has succeeded in conquering one of the strongest bastion of the Left, it can now eye the other two states where communists held sway in the past – Kerala and West Bengal. For the present, though, the victory would be a great morale booster after the shocks it received in Lok Sabha by-elections and the jolt in received in Gujarat where the Congress had given it a scare.
The bigger electoral battles are ahead in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan where it shall now go with its tail up. For the Congress these states would provide it an opportunity to rise from ashes but not if it displays the same attitude of giving up even before the battle has begun.


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