The nation was transfixed on the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led victory march of the BJP, an equal steamroller of a performance by YS Jagan Mohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh and Naveen Patnaik’s firm grip on Odisha. But two state elections—in Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim—went largely unnoticed, including in the national media.
For almost two days after the declaration of the Lok Sabha poll results, television channels debated the saffron sweep in mainland India, liberal pundits pontificated on the BJP’s relentless march that they never foresaw, and national newspapers devoted reams of newsprint analysing what may have been. But Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim were hardly on their radar.
While the BJP’s win in Arunachal Pradesh, helping CM Pema Khandu retain power, was perhaps a foregone conclusion, the upset in Sikkim caused by a teacher-turned-politician was of Himalayan proportions. That is because Prem Singh Tamang, alias Golay, dethroned Pawan Chamling, who ruled over the state with almost a vice-like grip for nearly 25 years.
Golay was a member of Chamling’s Cabinet until he was expelled for alleged anti-party activities. He was later even jailed before being released less than a year ago. To cause such an upset despite these personal tribulations is truly remarkable.
That the two events, especially the Sikkim result, did not occupy national mindspace is unfortunate as it is in moments like these that the people of the Northeast feel left out, if not alienated. If the Northeast has to be integrated with the national mainstream, the first thing that needs to be done is to win the hearts and minds of its people.
Economic development, job opportunities and freedom from corruption can come later. The first requirement is to make them feel that they are equal stakeholders in the national project.
For this to happen, information about the region, its people, culture, food habits and geography hold the key.
The less this is provided to mainstream India, the more harmful its effect on national integration. And the Northeast will continue to remain a distant land inhabited by strange people.