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Decoding the BJP’s Arunachal win, beyond lazy analysis

Author: Aaditya Tiwari
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: June 3, 2024
URL:   https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/bjp-arunachal-pradesh-win-analysis-9367688/

Instead of disregarding the wisdom of the voters by phrases like the region ‘always votes for the party in power at the Centre’, we should look deeper into what has worked for the state

For the first time in the history of Arunachal Pradesh, the incumbent government has been re-elected after completing a full five-year term. This distinction is significant because voters were evaluating the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) not only for its ideas but also for its decisive leadership and developmental work.

Arunachal, a lens for the general election

On April 19, the people of Arunachal Pradesh voted, evaluating the decade-long tenure of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the eight years under the leadership of Chief Minister Pema Khandu. Despite being in the remote northeastern corner of the nation, Arunachal Pradesh provides an important lens through which to view the 2024 elections.

We have come a long way from the days when a Union minister visiting Guwahati would make headlines across Northeast India to such visits becoming routine. PM Modi has made more visits to the Northeast than all his predecessors cumulatively. A region that is culturally as well as strategically important for India still largely remains out of the popular media narrative but has remained a priority for the “double engine” BJP government. This puts into context the enduring popularity of the respective leaders at the Union and the state.

With the inauguration of the Donyi Polo Airport, today Itanagar is just a three-hour flight away from New Delhi, a stark contrast to the long and arduous journey it once was. While an airport in the state capital seems like an obvious infrastructure need, it is remarkable that it took 75 years for the Indian Republic to build one in this remote part of the nation. Such projects are not merely about infrastructure; they symbolise aspirations and national integration.

Decoding the mandate

The vote for the BJP government reflects three key traits.

First, it signifies leadership that provides stability and fosters harmony among the people. Arunachal Pradesh is a microcosm of India’s diversity, with 26 major tribes and over 100 sub-tribes, each with unique cultures, languages, and practices. The state’s population of around 14 lakh is spread across 84,000 square kilometres. Such complex administration requires an inclusive leader who acts without discrimination.

Second, it highlights decisive leadership that ensures last-mile delivery. While the Government of India designs many policy initiatives for the under-resourced, state governments play a pivotal role in ensuring that benefits reach the intended recipients. The Arunachal Pradesh government has been proactive in this regard, a case in point being the critical Jal Jeevan Mission, where Arunachal became the first state to achieve 100 per cent saturation. On August 15, 2019, only 22,796 households in Arunachal Pradesh had tap water connections; this number rose to 2,28,546. This achievement is phenomenal, given the state’s difficult terrain and sparsely located population.

Third, and most important, the vote reflects collective and visionary leadership. Arunachal has over 79 per cent forest cover and the “jal, jungle, zameen” (water, forest, land) form an integral part of the daily life of the tribal population. Balancing infrastructure development with forest preservation is a constant challenge for policymakers. In response to the global climate crisis, inspired by the Prime Minister’s net zero commitment, the Arunachal Pradesh cabinet met in the Pakke Kessang Tiger Reserve and signed the “Pakke Declaration”, which aims for climate-resilient development. Arunachal Pradesh shares strategically important borders with Bhutan, the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, and Myanmar. It occasionally makes headlines due to skirmishes or “senseless attempts” by its northern neighbour. However, the significant development work happening in the state rarely gets mentioned.

A fresh zeal

There has been a marked shift from the earlier approach of minimal development to a fast-paced, proactive one. The state has electrified over 3 lakh households, constructed over 35,000 homes under the PM Awas Yojana, strengthened over 2,900 self-help groups providing employment opportunities to the poorest, established its first medical college, installed 4G mobile towers to provide network coverage to the “first villages” and security personnel, and achieved a 64 per cent increase in total road infrastructure.

These are transformational achievements accomplished in less than a decade. To reduce these election results to casual phrases like “Northeastern states tend to vote for the party in power at the Centre” would be a lazy analysis. Instead of disregarding the wisdom of the voters, we should look deeper into what has worked for the state.

Arunachal Pradesh is the only state in Northeast India where Arunachali Hindi, which is very similar to Hindi, is the lingua franca. This facilitates a greater connection with national issues. Due to the history of the 1962 war and current geopolitical realities, the common person in the state remains extremely patriotic and aligns with the Government of India’s approach to improving national security. Additionally, the increase in devolution of funds to 42 per cent on the recommendation of the 14th Finance Commission provides smaller states like Arunachal Pradesh greater freedom to plan according to their needs.

It is not without reason that over 55 per cent of voters cast their ballots in favour of the BJP government in Arunachal Pradesh. Understanding the state’s unique achievements and challenges provides valuable insights beyond simplistic generalisations, revealing the nuanced realities of its development journey.

 

- The writer has worked as the OSD to the Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, Pema Khandu, and is a recent graduate of SIPA, Columbia University

 
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