North East endorses Modi for 'Mission 2024' but with conditions

Nirendra Dev *

Polls in all three northeastern states, like most polls in post-2014 India, importantly revolved around Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Moditva phenomenon. Issues could be different in the three states. For common people, the majority of them being development-starved tribals issues like jobs do matter. And in Nagaland there is a pressing issue of insurgency and pending peace talks.

But in a general sense the elections in Nagaland, Meghalaya and Tripura had one common thread -- they have a thirst for development. There was also a bit of things that could shape up as national significance for 2024. Generally, it is said about north east that when you shiver in Delhi, someone will sneeze in northeast. The concept of Double Engine as propounded by the Prime Minister is easily accepted here.

Of course, the big picture takeaway is the winner takes it all. The mandate says so. Modi is thus the man of the match and truly the faceless innocuous tribal voter from remote hamlet with coffee coloured mud on his or her feet is the man (of woman) of the series. They spoke out eloquently and in many places proved the prophets of doom wrong to endorse Modi and his Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas "inclusive and pro-governance policy".

But there was a big message from these voters in Tripura and Meghalaya too. The saffron party lost some seats in Tripura and in Meghalaya, its solo journey was yet again met with big hurdles. Of course there was a large turnout in Tripura - around 80 percent. It was because people had high expectations from Modi.

This is crucial because the Left parties and their communists' ideology still controls the mindset of the overwhelming Bengali population. The Left-liberals have a formidable ecosystem that - as expected - screamed even till the last moment that they will win. Now, will they easily start to blame the EVM?

Political analyst Kutu Roy in Agartala said, "The Left and Congress coming together gave Congress an edge as the Marxists' votes got transferred. But the communists did not benefit from the alliance essentially because Congress votes are always non-transferable".

The Congress could win three as against zero in 2018 and the CPI-M tally dropped to 11 from 16. According to initial rounds of counting, the saffron party's vote share came down from 43.59 percent to 39 percent but the number of seats fell only by four seats to 32. For the CPI-M, the vote share nosedived from 42.22% to around 24.62. This makes it clear that the newly floated tribal-based party Tipra Motha gained at the expense of the Left and BJP's pre-poll ally Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT).

This party had won 9 last time but it came down to a meagre one this time. Tipra Motha led by Pradyot Bikram Manikya making its first attempt could win 13 and if it stays away from BJP, the principal opposition space will come to it. Motha's vote share was 22 percent.

On the whole of course, the BJP will be more than delighted with the mandate. The Lotus party's victory that started in Uttar Pradesh and Manipur in March 2022 continues. Last year Modi-Shah duo delivered six state assembly victories except Himachal Pradesh. To this school of thought the major electoral plank has been its stance to promote 'pro-incumbency' and despite limitations and strong opposition, they have been able to deliver that.

Of course, BJP will be unhappy with its performance in Meghalaya. If BJP thinks it can emerge as a player in Christian-dominated Meghalaya, it is also because of the Prime Minister and his image of a performer. The slogan 'Modi for Meghalaya' was very apt and could associate with people's aspirations very well though BJP's number of seats could not increase.

They won 2 seats in 2018 and this time their tally would be two yet again though they have tried to expand the base in many places. The BJP strategists would not be too pleased as their bitter rival in the national level - Trinamool Congress- could win five. However, TMC performance will be also a big setback both for Mamata Banerjee and also former Chief Minister Mukul Sangma.

The BJP's acceptability in Nagaland has increased but it is linked to peace talks more than anything else.

In Nagaland, partnership with Neiphiu Rio-;led NDPP helped BJP and the alliance swept the polls despite it being a strong Christian-majority state. According to EC website, the Lotus party could be winning 12 (out of 20 it contested and this was its tally in 2018), Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas) could win 3, NPF - 2, NPP of Conrad Sangma - 5, Nationalist Congress Party - 7 and CM Rio-led NDPP 24 and there could be four Independents and Republican Party of India (Athawale) - 2.

"The Naga voters had voted for BJP and NDPP as they clamour for political solution," a noted social activist said.

Notably, LJP (Ram Vilas) and RPI (A) were largely seen as part of BJP-B Team while NCP was reportedly close to Rio's NDPP. In Southern Angami - II, which the BJP won, it was alleged that the NCP nominee was allegedly backed by NDPP.

But from Nagaland, the message is more than just the election outcome and who will be the Chief Mnister or other Ministers. The message is political and its regard to peace talks. If Nagas have voted for NDPP and BJP, it's not for governance or even the leadership of Rio. "It's because the Nagas dream that a Solution to the Naga issue can come only with Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister", said Hukiye Sumi in Dimapur.

In fact, in his Feb 24 election rally speech at Dimapur, Mr Modi had assured the voters that the promise he has made to the Gaon Burras (Village elders) on peace and solution will be fulfilled.

The outcome of these polls -- the first of the series of poll-frenzy year 2023 - should be also understood from the impending battle of 2024. There are a few finer points that need to be understood and analysed in their proper perspective.

Shillong-based analyst Manoj Sakhrani told this journalist, "The common people and poor people prefer a strong and decisive leader. That's Modi for you and hence opposition unity fails. Even in the seventies, the voters in the north east could gauge the overall national mood and would vote for Indira Gandhi. They are very good at this. They did so in 2018 quite decisively and the rest of India toed the line in 2019".

BJP's disappointment:

It is also important to note that the BJP in Meghalaya could not emerge as a 'great gainer' though in its maiden attempt to fight assembly elections full steam Trinamool Congress too could not do very well. The face of Mamata Banerjee-led outfit in Meghalaya was charismatic Mukul Sangma, a former Congress veteran who was state's Chief Minister for eight years since 2010.

Many also say the Congress will have to go back to the drawing room to rework on their poll strategies in north east and across India. The Bharat Jodo Yatra was not at all linked to elections in states including northeast and also Gujarat.

Trinamool leader Mukul Sangma's biggest handicap was the tag 'Bengali party' attached to his party and this made many believe he could have been a more formidable force if he had floated a party of his own or even remained in the Congress.

The saffron party could not hike its tally although the saffron party's campaign was 'Modi for Meghalaya'.

A Kohima-based analyst Vipro Kenny said, "In Nagaland, without BJP's friendship, the NDPP could have been reduced to single digit".

In Nagaland, one key message from BJP was 'Modi - For Peace and Development' and thus all eyes will now be on mega promises and largess like Rs 50,000 bond on the birth of a girl child, free education for girls till Post Graduate, free Scooty for meritorious college girls and two free LPG cylinders under PM Ujjwala Scheme.

The BJP has also promised a Development Board for Eastern Nagaland where the influential Eastern Nagaland People's Organisation (ENPO) has been assured of an autonomous council by the Home Ministry panel headed by A K Mishra.

For Congress, it was a modest and partial victory in Tripura where it could pick up three seats. In 2018, the Congress tally was zero. Of course one elected Congress MLA is Sudip Roy Barman, who five years back had won on BJP ticket and served as a Minister for sometime. One argument is now in circulation from Tripura is that the experiment of pre-poll alliance in Tripura between Left and Congress could be tried elsewhere but the move could help Congress chiefly.

In Meghalaya, where under Mukul Sangma's leadership the Congress had won 21 to emerge as the single largest party, its vote share dropped. So did the seats to a modest five.

In Nagaland too, it had failed in 2018 to open an account and yet again it could not make a mark.

* Nirendra Dev wrote this article for
The writer is based at New Delhi journalist
and can be contacted at nirendev1(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on 06 March 2023.

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