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Why North-East is important to Modi and BJP

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No matter how some may try to downplay the results of the recent Assembly elections in three north-eastern States -- Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya -- saying they constitute only five Lok Sabha constituencies, they are undoubtedly significant for national politics. The unequivocal ouster of the Left from Tripura after its uninterrupted reign of 25 years would by itself qualify as a watershed even without counting BJPs “shunya to shikhar” triumph. Similarly, the reduction of the Congress to near irrelevance in the region is also only half the story.

For the BJP, of course, much more was at stake than capturing power in three more States to reverse the perception about the slide of its popularity after the party's underwhelming performance in Gujarat and subsequent setbacks suffered in the by-polls of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. A loss in Tripura after the hype created by the “Chalo Paltai” (Come Let’s Change) call would have been more than a loss of face for the BJP. It would have put a huge question mark on the party’s ambition for a truly national footprint, going beyond its traditional bastion of the Hindi-belt. But, above all, it would have raised doubts about Prime Mjnister Narendra Modi’s pan-Indian appeal. Other than Atal Bihari Vajpayee, arguably no other leader outside the Nehru dynasty has held sway like him from North to South and West to East (in that direction) in the popular imagination.

Mainstreaming of India's North East has been more rhetoric than action for all previous Governments, with the notable exception of Vajpayee’s NDA years that saw the creation of DONER (Ministry of Development of North East Region) in 2001 and the initiation of several mega development projects. But, thereafter, it slipped back into a state of low engagement with DONER becoming a parking slot........

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