Riding on proxies to win

The massive poll campaign ran by the BJP with big money in the three north-eastern States raises many questions.

By Author Geetartha Pathak   |   Published: 10th Mar 2018   12:01 am Updated: 9th Mar 2018   9:06 pm

The election results of the three States of Northeast have overshadowed all the burning national issues since March 3. The BJP’s victory in Tripura is no doubt significant, capturing two-thirds majority along with its electoral ally Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT). However, in Meghalaya, the BJP could win only 2 seats of the 47 it contested while in Nagaland, the party won 11 seats of the 20 it contested in the 60-member legislative house.
Nevertheless, the BJP has claimed that the party has won in all the three States of Northeast where elections to the Assembly were held. In Nagaland, the BJP allied with the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP), an opposition party of the State, by breaking its age-old relation with the ruling Nagaland People’s Front (NPF) before the elections.

Breach of People’s Trust

The BJP may have reasons to celebrate its victory in Nagaland as the NDPP–BJP alliance secured majority to form the government. However, there was no pre-poll alliance of the BJP with any political party in Meghalaya, not even with the National People’s Party (NPP) — founded by former Lok Sabha speaker PA Sangma — which is an ally of the NDA at the Centre. The NPP now led by late Sangma’s son Conrad Sangma knew that if he had a pre-poll alliance with the BJP, the NPP would have performed very poorly in this Christian State as there were already mass protests against the BJP’s policy on cow slaughter and its critical view on Christianity.

If the NPP has maintained its distance with the BJP in Meghalaya respecting the sentiments of the people of Meghalaya in spite of being an ally of NDA at the national level, it should not have formed the government with the BJP as the people of Meghalaya have rejected the saffron party.

This is an act of breach of people’s trust. The irony ran high with the presence of Home Minister Rajnath Singh and several Central leaders of the BJP, including party’s Chief Ministers of neighbouring States during the swearing in of the Conrad Sangma Cabinet, which was showcased as another significant victory of the BJP.

Dubious Strategy

The BJP exploited the anti-incumbency factor and ran a massive poll campaign with big money in these State elections. Its shift of alliance from the ruling NPF to NDPP in Nagaland, the ‘Chalo Paltai’ slogan in Tripura and big moneyed campaign are vivid examples of such a strategy.

The culture, food habits, beliefs, religious tolerance and the lifestyle of Northeast are not a fertile ground for the proliferation of the BJP and its saffron allies’ ideology. Therefore, the party instead of facing the Congress, a dominant political force in the Northeast till recently, devised a proxy fight against the Congress in the region.

Cannibalising the opportunist politicians within its opponents is another widely applied tactic of the BJP. Analysts say that poaching of all the six Trinamool Congress (TMC) legislators who switched to the TMC from the Congress in 2016 by the BJP just before the Assembly elections was more crucial than its alliance with the IPFT for the victory in Tripura.

The present electoral system where poll expenditure has virtually no limit (the proposed electoral bond will make it worse) will shut the door for the poor and the middle-class to enter politics. The presence of billionaires in the lists of the electoral candidates of the big and powerful political parties can increasingly be seen from their affidavits. The Left parties instead of clamouring for continuing their tradition must change its strategies and face the new challenges, especially by catching the imagination of the new generation.

The divisive agenda and politics of vendetta have once again surfaced in Tripura after the declaration of election results. Attacking Left activists, torching and vandalising their offices and houses is on in Tripura. Pulling down of statues of Lenin using cranes in two places in Tripura and vandalising a statue of Tamil icon Periyar have had nationwide repercussions. These acts have evoked some backlash in West Bengal where a statue of BJP founder Syama Prasad Mookerjee was vandalised. In Uttar Pradesh, an Ambedkar statue was also vandalised.

Survival of Democracy

While the Prime Minister has condemned vandalising of statues, Union Minister of State for Home Hansraj Gangaram Ahir has said that the statues of foreign leaders had no place in India. Assam State Committee BJP president Ranjit Das has openly supported vandalising of Lenin’s statues.

The BJP is a well-organised political party. Therefore, such contradictory statements of its senior leaders and ministers cannot be accepted as a unintentional expression. The politics of absolute power is dissecting the country’s ethos and integrity from every possible corner.

The Left has lost the election in Tripura in spite of securing 42.7% vote share (it contested in 59 seats) against the BJP’s 43% (in 50 seats). The poll pattern alludes to a highly divided society in Tripura.

Benjamin Reilly, a research fellow at the National Centre for Development Studies, Australian National University, said that survival of democracy in countries split by deep cleavages of race, religion, language, or ethnicity is difficult. He said that the politicians in such ‘divided societies’ often have strong incentives to play the ethnic card at the time of election, using communal appeals to mobilise voters.

According to a US Professor of Law and Political Science, Donald L Horowitz, in such circumstances, politics can quickly turn centrifugal, as the centre is pulled apart by extremist forces and ‘winner-take-all’ rules the day. The failure of democracy is often the result.

(The author is a senior journalist from Assam)