Growth pangs

What Sikkim has just witnessed is comparable only to the events in Arunachal Pradesh, where a ruling regional party split and merged with the BJP to form the government in 2016.

In elections to the Sikkim legislative assembly in May, the BJP had finished at the bottom of the heap with just two per cent of the votes polled. On Tuesday, 10 MLAs of the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF), a member of the BJP-led Northeast Democratic Alliance (NEDA), crossed over and turned the BJP into the state s main Opposition party. The SDF, which uninterruptedly ruled in Sikkim for a quarter century until May, is now left with just three legislators. Interestingly, the ruling outfit, the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha, has just 16 MLAs in the House of 32 members and its chief minister, Prem Singh Tamang alias PS Golay, is waiting for the Supreme Court to rule on his appeal against conviction in a corruption case. Sikkim is the only state in the Northeast where the BJP had no presence in government. Since 2014, the BJP has been expanding its footprint in the Northeast by inducting leaders and rebels from other parties, especially the Congress, and roping in regional parties as allies. In a region that was seen to be immune to the charms of Hindutva politics, the BJP is now in power in four states and is a partner in government in three others. In the 2019 general election, the NEDA won 18 of the 25 seats in the region.

Party hopping is not rare, especially among legislators in the restive Northeast. But what Sikkim has just witnessed is comparable only to the events in Arunachal Pradesh, where a ruling regional party split and merged with the BJP to form the government in 2016. Legislators, councillors and party functionaries have crossed over in large numbers to the BJP in Goa and poll-bound Maharashtra. Similarly, Rajya Sabha MPs from Telangana and UP have shifted loyalties. The BJP, of course, has been more than welcoming towards these leaders. With the party on the upswing and its leadership focussed on spreading its influence at all costs, the inflow of outsiders in the party has been steady and smooth. However, the induction of so many leaders untrained in the ideological habits of the BJP, has the potential to trigger dilemmas and frictions within. Its current expansive approach towards opportunists and careerists from elsewhere may force the party to blunt its own ideological edge to accommodate new interests. In states like UP, for instance, it has exploited the contradictions within OBC politics to form broadbased caste alliances that have helped the party in elections. But the party has so far not provided adequate representation to these new supporters in government or even in party structures. Similar contradictions could come to fore in the Northeast where the BJP s aggressive support to the citizenship amendment bill may force a realignment of allegiances.

The management of contradictions arising out of the party s own growth could turn out to be a major task for the BJP leadership in the coming days, especially in those parts where its expansion has not been organic. The biggest challenges to the BJP s consolidation of power could lie within.