BJP has now netted 93 MLAs from NE parties

GUWAHATI: Pitching camp from one state to another in the northeast, BJP has brought into its fold 93 legislators from other parties in the last eight years – a number more than twice the strength of the 40-seat Mizoram assembly.

The switchover of five JD(U) MLAs in Manipur late on Friday was BJP’s 15th snatch in the region since the one in Nagaland in 2014 when three NCP MLAs changed loyalties.

BJP’s most aggressive takeover has been in Arunachal Pradesh. Twice, in 2003 and in 2016, BJP has formed governments in the frontier state without going into elections. As the oldest party in power for much of the time, Congress was the most preferred choice of BJP when it announced the region would be made “Congress-mukt” (Congress-free)”.

Of the 93 legislators who have embraced BJP since 2014, 32 (a third) are ex-Congressmen. Much before last month’s break-up in Bihar, BJP has been quietly acquiring JD(U) MLAs in the region – six in Arunachal Pradesh in 2019 and five on Friday in Manipur. In recent years, BJP has also opened its doors to legislators from TMC – a relatively new player in the region; as many nine former loyalists of Mamata Banerjee now owe allegiance to BJP’s ideologies.

In fact, BJP’s first government in the region was not through an election but by engineering a defection of 36 legislators that saw the fall of the governing Congress in 2003. The BJP government led by Gegong Apang, however, lasted just 42 days.

Barring the short-lived exercise in Arunachal Pradesh, BJP lacked much appeal until Narendra Modi arrived on the national scene in 2014 and the northeast became the saffron party’s most fertile nursery.

Come 2016, Assam provided BJP the perfect start and just few months before the assembly election, it roped in Himanta Biswa Sarma from Congress, a move that went on to become the biggest game-changer for the saffron party in the region.

Just seven months later, Sarma made his first move to install BJP’s second government in the region with a surgical strike in Arunachal that saw the governing Congress fall after it lost 32 of its MLAs in the house of 60 – first to People’s Party of Arunachal and finally to BJP in a matter of 48 hours.

The BJP replicated the Assam model in Manipur and before the 2017 election, set its sights on then Congress strongman N. Biren Singh, who was also then CM Ibobi Singh’s main challenger. After the election, Manipur, too, fell into BJP’s lap.