The BJP will focus its energy on conquering Tamil Nadu and Kerala in the next five years after its almost complete takeover of the northeast in the national election, the party's strategist in the region Himanta Biswa Sarma told NDTV. He also faulted West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for "trying to stop people from praising Lord Ram" in the eastern state where the BJP won 18 of the 42 seats, a massive improvement over its 2014 performance when it won only two seats.
"I think the people of Bengal are extremely angry with Mamata Banerjee. When she said you cannot utter Jai Shri Ram in Bengal, I think that was the climax, people got extremely upset, that how can you ask us not to shout Jai Shri Ram, who is our civilizational hero, who is hero of Indian civilisation, how can you do that? That was the big turning point," Mr Sarma told NDTV on Thursday after the BJP won the national election with more seats than it did in 2014.
The BJP, however, drew a blank in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, though its alliance partner AIADMK won a single seat in the latter.
"...As you remember when our national president Amit Shah took over, in our national executive he gave a call for expansion towards the east and north-east. I am very happy that the philosophy and idea of expansion which was espoused by our president has become a reality today," said Mr Sarma. "Now the only agenda before the BJP (is) to expand towards Kerala and Tamil Nadu. That also we will accomplish in the next five years."
Before the election, analysts had cautioned that the BJP may face a backlash from some areas in the north-east, where protests had broken out, over its push for the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, aimed at giving Indian citizenship to all immigrants - except Muslims - from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan after a mere seven years of residence even if they do not have any documents.
But the BJP winning 14 seats in the region, up from eight in the 2014 election, indicates the risk of pushing ahead with the Citizenship Bill had dissipated.
"I think that people realised the Citizenship Bill is an important legislation for displaced Hindu, Sikh, Christian... refugees. They are the partners of our civilisation, they are the stakeholders of our civilisation, so Indian civilisation has the greatest responsibility towards our citizens, so that was our message towards the people," said Mr Sarma, a former Congress leader who was credited with delivering Assam to the BJP in the assembly election in May 2016.
"I am very happy people across eastern and north-eastern regions have accepted that yes, whatever Prime Minister Narendra Modi is doing, he is doing it to uphold our civilizational values and people have endorsed him," he said.
Mr Sarma, 50, was for years a top aide of former Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi of the Congress.
Mr Gogoi told NDTV it's time for the party led by Rahul Gandhi to reach out to Hindu voters and shed the image the BJP has created about it as a party that appeases Muslims. "The result is unfortunate, but it is triggered by the divisive politics of Modi based on religious sentiments, and Modi has been successful in his ploy," Mr Gogoi said on Thursday.