Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah on Saturday cleared the air on a rumour that had been doing the rounds in Delhi’s political circles. Speculation was rife that prime minister Narendra Modi was toying with the idea of postponing elections to the Karnataka assembly in order to hold Parliament elections early.
Putting an end to all such rumours, Amit Shah has made it clear that the party’s next target is Karnataka polls. According to him, performance of the BJP and its allies in Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya will enthuse the cadre to work to wrest power from the Congress in Karnataka.
The party’s maiden win in Tripura and impressive performance in Nagaland is a reflection of the BJP's organisational muscle and the relentless efforts put in to acquire power. The refusal to learn lessons from past debacles was the main reason for the Congress’s downfall in these two states. The verdict in the three northeastern states has definitely helped the BJP present itself as being truly a pan-India party, a status enjoyed by the Congress in the past few decades.
Though the Congress somehow managed to emerge as the single largest party in Meghalaya, it drew a blank both in Tripura and Nagaland. Now the party is in power only in four states – Mizoram, Puducherry, Karnataka, and Punjab. With both fronts scrambling for numbers following a hung verdict, it is to be seen who will be invited to form the next government in Meghalaya.
Since 2016, the saffron leadership, especially Amit Shah, has been working hard drawing up specific plans to find a foothold in north-eastern states while the RSS focused on strengthening the party organisation from grassroots level. On the other hand, the Congress high command failed to do its homework to find a strategy to convey the party’s message to the people. Last year, former Congress leader and state minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had met Rahul Gandhi and gave a nuanced picture of the political situation in Assam. As Rahul paid no attention to his warnings, Sarma chose to cross over to the BJP and became the party’s key strategist for the Northeast.
Notably, the BJP wholeheartedly welcomed those who came from the Congress camp and offered them plum posts whereas the Congress could not do much to stop the exodus of senior leaders and cadres to the BJP.
In fact, the Gujarat poll outcome had instilled the belief in Congress leaders and workers that the BJP could be defeated. However, the party think-tank miserably failed to draw up a strategy to translate that support and pro-Congress sympathy into votes. The BJP, on the other hand, held massive campaigns across Tripura to condemn the alleged killing of nine of its workers by the CPM and projected it as one of the main campaign issues.
Amit Shah has been very particular about bringing fresh faces to the party’s helm in these states. One fine example of that tactical move is 48-year-old Biplab Kumar Deb, state party president and the front-runner for the chief minister post in Tripura. The party has also made it a point to send one union minister to the northeastern states every fortnight since May 2014. Even prime minister Narendra Modi has visited these states several times during the past four years.
The BJP was extremely cautious against bringing up any issues during the campaign that could potentially cause unease among minority communities. The party tactfully refrained from talking about either the beef ban controversy or the alleged minority appeasement policies of rival parties. The Congress entertained false hope that it would be able to snatch the minority community votes.
The BJP has treated even the smallest of states with utmost importance. There are only twenty-four Lok Sabha seats in the entire north-east region. The party, however, has made it a priority to win all of them in the 2019 Parliament elections.
Hardly one year is left for the next general elections. Though the political circles are abuzz with murmurs of an early Lok Sabha election, Modi and Amit Shah are unlikely to explore that possibility on the back of the party’s spectacular show in the North East.
Nevertheless, the outcome of the Karnataka elections will certainly be an indicator.