Northeast elections 2018: Why BJP is so desperate to hype its Tripura win

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) celebrations over winning Tripura, and forming coalition governments through the back door in Meghalaya and Nagaland, continued at its parliamentary party meeting on Tuesday morning.

BJP Members of Parliament (MPs) distributed sweets, and raised slogans that now it was the party’s turn to win Karnataka.

Yes, the BJP won Tripura handsomely. But it won neither Meghalaya, where it got two of the 60 seats, nor Nagaland. The Congress was decimated in Tripura and Nagaland, and emerged the single-largest party in Meghalaya.

Together, the three states send five MPs to the Lok Sabha – Tripura and Meghalaya send two each and Nagaland sends one.

The BJP has put some thought into its strategy to continue celebrating its Tripura win, and form coalition governments in Meghalaya and Nagaland. It needs to restore the impression of invincibility that it had managed to create after its victories in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand in March 2017.

However, in that series of Assembly polls, too, the BJP had lost Punjab. Its incumbent government in Goa failed to emerge as the single-largest party, and it was not the single-largest party in Manipur either. But it formed governments in these two states, thanks mostly to behind-the-scenes machinations.

The past few months have not been very good for the BJP and the Narendra Modi government. There have been sustained farmer and trade union protests, and the government has had to try to reach out to farmers.

The Modi government’s claims on providing jobs have been punctured as well. It is seen to have failed to deliver on its promise of creating 20 million jobs a year.

Additionally, the Punjab National Bank fraud has punched holes in its claims of providing corruption-free governance.

Conscious of the damage this is doing, the central probe agencies have arrested Karti Chidambaram and BJP leaders have tried to build a narrative of how the bank fraud case had its origins during the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) rule.

The BSE Sensex has lost over 2,500 points from the high of 36,283 on January 29 to 33,746 points on Monday.

Electorally, the news had not been upbeat until Tripura election results. The BJP won Gujarat, but it looked as if it was handed a scare. No less than Prime Minister Narendra Modi stooped to name calling and indulged in mudslinging on his predecessor.

The BJP lost Gurdaspur Lok Sabha by-poll in Punjab by a big margin. Subsequently, it also lost the Ajmer and Alwar Lok Sabha seats. The size of the defeat unnerved the party. It also lost the Mandalgarh Assembly seat by-poll, again by a significant margin.

Since November, the BJP has lost the three Assembly by-polls that have taken place in Madhya Pradesh – Chitrakoot, Mungaoli and Kolaras. The defeats in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan are significant. These two states, along with Chhattisgarh and Mizoram, will have Assembly elections in November.

The BJP needs to win Karnataka to keep its aura of invincibility intact. It would at least try to emerge the single-largest party and form the government in Karnataka. The Karnataka elections are due in April.

It currently looks unlikely that the BJP can repeat its performance of 2014 in several of these states. This is the context of BJP chief Amit Shah’s appeal to party workers to win in some of its non-traditional areas.

The BJP would hope to compensate its losses in the Hindi belt by winning more seats in the northeastern states, Odisha, West Bengal, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

The party is clearly nervous at the Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party coming together. On Sunday, the BSP said it would support arch-rival SP candidates in the Lok Sabha by-elections in Phulpur and Gorakhpur. The polling is to take place on March 11.

The move is seen as a precursor to SP-BSP electoral understanding for the 80 Lok Sabha seats of Uttar Pradesh.

Of the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP had in 2014 won 71 and ally Apna Dal 2. It would need to come close to that performance for Narendra Modi to be sworn in again as the prime minister.

In 2004, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government could not return to power primarily because its seat tally in Uttar Pradesh dropped to a mere 10.

Subsequent events aside, the result of the Bihar Assembly polls in 2015 was evidence of how ‘index of opposition unity’ can hurt the BJP, just as it had hurt the then all-powerful Congress in 1967, 1977 and 1989.

The SP and BSP lack an overarching narrative, at least for now. But both the parties can boast of a dedicated support base among voters. The narrative might not take long to build if the Centre and the state government fail to deliver on its promises for the farm sector and job-seeking youth.

The concern for the BSP has always been the inability of other parties to transfer their votes to BSP candidates, while it has accomplished that task more effectively. However, it is a battle for survival for the Mayawati-led party and it seems to be willing to ignore that electoral factoid for the time being.

The SP and BSP had come together to defeat the BJP in the post-Ram Janmabhoomi Assembly election of 1993.

The Gorakhpur and Phulpur seats might still go to the BJP, but its margin of victory would be a barometer of the effectiveness of the SP-BSP alliance.

In Bihar, Hindustani Awam Party chief Jitan Ram Manjhi has left the BJP-led NDA to join the Rashtriya Janata Dal-Congress alliance. He is a mahadalit leader.

There are murmurs that another ally, Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Loktantrik Samata Party, could also jump ship closer to the polls. The by-election to Araria Lok Sabha constituency and Bhabua and Jehanabad Assembly seats, is to take place on March 11. The results could spur realignments in Bihar politics. 

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