The clean sweep made by the BJP in the recent elections in three north-eastern states – and especially in Tripura – represents a very important movement of national consolidation. These elections have clearly revealed how the northeastern India had, for the last several decades, been craftily manipulated for political ends to sustain polarization and cultural degradation and reap the resultant underhanded benefits of corruption in an atmosphere of intimidation. This has been the political model of northeastern India since Independence – a model which RSS has been trying to challenge since 1970s and in which many martyrs have sacrificed their lives, till as recently as the Tripura election of 2018.
When this sustained decades-old groundwork of the RSS combined with the political determination of the Modi government towards the north-east since 2014, the result brought the BJP to power in almost all northeast states. Since 2014, the BJP’s average vote share in the northeast India has grown from just 3.9% to 27%.
With the latest election results, it has become evident that the BJP is making significant strides among the Bengali and even the non-Hindu voters across the region, and has significantly shored up its political support base in Assam, Tripura and Nagaland. In Tripura, it pretty much secured a majority on its own, completely vanquishing the 25-year old spell of the CPI (M) by securing 35 seats, while its ally, IPFT got 8 seats and the CPI (M) was reduced to just 16 seats. From a vote-share of just 1.3% in 2013, the BJP’s vote-share has gone up 41.7 percentage points to 43% – no wonder the victory is being viewed as a miracle. Similarly, the progress in Nagaland too has been impressive, where it has won 12 seats on its own – from a vote-share of just 1.8% in 2013, its vote-share has gone up to 15.3%, showing a 13.5 percentage point increase. Compare this with the Congress vote-share in Nagaland, which fell from 22.8% to 2.1% during the same period. In Meghalaya, the BJP’s vote-share jumped from 1.27% in 2013 to 9.6% – a significant increase.
Besides these immediate results, the overall rise of the BJP in the northeastern India has seen a similar trajectory. In other states like Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Assam, the BJP’s vote share has risen since 2014. This rapid and expansive success of the BJP cannot be explained away by anti-incumbency or rejection of the Congress. It actually shows rising popularity of the party in a region which is completely non-Hindu – a mostly Christian-majority region.
Consider the demography of the northeastern India – while 34% of the population in Assam is Muslim, in other states Christianity dominates, with Nagaland and Mizoram having more than 85% of Christian population, Meghalaya about 74% Christian population, and, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh having between 30-40% of Christian population. In this, mostly Christian-dominated region, BJP’s expanding real foothold, shows how the nationalist integration of country under the universal principles of Sanatana Dharma is taking place.
The spirit of Sanatana Dharma, being eternal and transcendent, accepts all faiths and sustains all diversity within itself, rejecting, at the same time, everything that runs antithetical to the Divinely-guided destiny of the country. This spirit of active assimilation and rejection has always been a part of India’s history, even when the country was at her lowest. But, today, the nationalist fervour is almost as pronounced as seen during India’s freedom struggle. People are irresistibly rising up to break free from the shackles that have so far kept them bound to satisfy the whims of political convenience. This explains why excuses such as secularism have become a farce, while development has taken on a new meaning, no longer confined to material sops or the politics of socialist redistribution, but deeper and actual individual and social well-being linked to the progress of the nation.
That is why BJP is still going strong, confounding the usual predictions of anti-incumbency into its fourth year in power, after a series of shaking policy decisions and usual policymaking. Its development idea does not mean the old utilitarian development idea of giving free entitlements in lure of votes – a new idea is taking root in the minds of the people, which no longer separates our deeper well-being with a strong national identity.
The reason for BJP’s victory is not its promise of the 7th Pay Commission, better jobs or a skillful balancing of Bengali and tribal populations in Tripura – the Congress had already done all of this and a lot more in its heyday of power, and yet, did not manage to win the kind of support that BJP suddenly did. Something else is at play here, besides these intermediate outward triggers and promises. The inevitability of the nationalist integration of India is ruthlessly rooting out all those power-soaked entrenched interests that have stood in the way for decades.
In the northeastern India, conversions of the tribals has been the site of one such power play, which particularly gained currency and clout during the rule of the one family at the centre. In a state like Arunachal Pradesh, the Christian population grew from just 0.79% in 1971 to 30.26% at the time of the 2011 census, showing how meticulously the conversion project has been carried out under the aegis of the Congress. Despite the institution of the state’s 1978 anti-conversion act, not a single prosecution has taken place, despite so many conversions. And, when Rajiv Gandhi came to power, he persuaded the Arunachal Chief Minister to allow Christian missionaries to work freely – overturning the policies of Nehru and Indira Gandhi to keep the missionaries out of the strategically important state – resulting in a 6% upsurge in Christian population in just 10 years between 1981 and 1991 (Mazumdar 2017). This politics has continued until – through the BJP – the fortunes of the state were ruthlessly overturned in mid-2016 when the Congress lost its entire government wholesale to the BJP.
In all of this politics, the close chain connecting the state, the militants, the dominant religious forces and national parties, in the northeastern India sheds a lot of light on how the region has been deliberately kept deprived, restless and obstructed from integrating into mainstream India. The BJP’s recent success and its exposure of other parties further reinforces how the northeast was, historically, first marginalized, and, then its marginality was exploited for votes by political parties that claim to pander to marginalized interests. This was a model of functioning which first creates victims and then exploits their victimhood in a manner that passes off under the garb of compassion and affirmative action.
It is particularly noteworthy that the recent decent victory in Nagaland and the ability to become a part of the government in Meghalaya happened despite a sustained hostile campaign by the Baptist Church to exhort the people to not vote for the BJP. It didn’t fully work. In Nagaland, the concerted personal interest of Modi, since 2014, ensured that the Naga accord signed with the rebel militant Naga outfit, NSCN (I-M), roped in the latter in such a way that the Church lost its most powerful instrument.
Besides, the personal efforts by Modi and other top leaders of the BJP and the RSS, who threw themselves entirely into the northeast more than any other part of the country, they also adopted the strategy of not responding to all the negative propaganda and instead focused on cracking the tough equations by ensuring the revival of tribal heroes and heroines, like Rani Gaidinliu, and by reminding them of their own worships, which often flowed from Hinduism’s Vaishnavite, Shaivite and Tantric variations.
Besides this sustained effort at national integration, under the aegis of Sanatana Dharma, carried out by the RSS and its affiliates by braving the bloodshed and violence in the region, the corruption and intimidating tactics of existing governments, like Manik Sarkar’s in Tripura, aided the process. Like in states like Kerala and West Bengal, in Tripura too, Mr. Sarkar’s personal image notwithstanding, the killer machine of CPI (M) cadres were, virtually, indirectly ruling the state and rigging elections through strong-man tactics, bribery and primitive booth-rigging and other methods. Ignored by the national media, cut-off from the central government and the attention it needed and having become a personal fiefdom of CPI (M), the primitive electoral machinations in Tripura were neither resisted nor reported. But, despite losing a number of its own cadres, the BJP resisted this system and the people, Bengali and tribals alike – who were earlier scared to raise their voices – responded.
In all likelihood, the Bengali-tribal divide and the resultant bogey of past insurgency was overplayed by the media, which conveniently forgot the fact that the CPI (M) leadership had kept the tribals artificially subdued to control the insurgency, giving rise to formations like the IPFT, which went on a murder rampage before this election. On the other hand, as the RSS continues to work among the tribals, the upliftment and integration of tribal areas will be real and not artificial. After all, keeping alive the artificial suppression, mutual divisions among warring tribes and insurgency against India has been the hallmark of northeast politics that few mainstream national parties in the region have cared to depart from.
As for the power of the Church, the RSS does not view this as such a big threat. Over the years, it has become sure in its ground work and ability to initiate reconversions. After all, Christianity in India has ceased to owe its allegiance to foreign soil, unlike the Muslim radicals in Kashmir – so the northeast is a one-off problem, involving exhaustive hard work and integration of thousands of warring tribes. And, with the Western funders of the Church themselves losing ground in North-Atlantic countries and with neighbours like governments in Myanmar, Bangladesh and China being firmly on board with Narendra Modi, potential and existing insurgents are only set to lose material and political resources in the times to come. With the spirit of nationalism gaining ground all over the country, even the tough and complicated politics of northeast is being swept away, through all ways and means necessary.
Mazumdar, Jaideep. 2017. Swarajya. June 30. Accessed March 13, 2018. https://swarajyamag.com/magazine/arunachals-tribal-culture-fades-as-fervent-proselytisation-fuels-christianity.