BJP Assam win creates a flutter in North East India; Manipur ripe for the picking

The overwhelming victory of the BJP in Assam, once a bastion of the Congress party has boosted the party's confidence and fuelled ambitions of spreading its presence across the other northeastern states. Its success in Assam, which has a 34 percent Muslim population, is majorly due to the consolidation of Hindu votes and playing on the natural fears of the Assamese that they will be reduced to a minority in their own state. Xenophobia of "outsiders" is common across the North East. Mostly it is Bangladeshi immigrants and Nepalis in certain pockets but often extends to all "outsiders", people not from the region.

BJP surge in the North East. AFP

BJP surge in the North East. AFP

Consolidation of Hindu votes helped the BJP's cause. The BJP is now training its guns on Manipur, where elections are scheduled for around February next year. Manipur now has a Congress government led by Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh. The other two states with Congress in the saddle are Meghalaya and Mizoram. In Arunachal Pradesh the BJP already has a government brought about by large scale defection from the Congress. In Nagaland and Sikkim the BJP is in alliance with the Sikkim Democratic Front and the Naga People's Front.

The swearing in of the first BJP-led alliance in Assam with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, party president Amit Shah and a host of BJP bigwigs in attendance, has created a buzz across the region. Seizing the moment, Shah announced the formation of a North East Democratic Alliance, made up of Naga People's Front and the Sikkim Democratic Front in place to defeat the Congress. Heading this anti-Congress alliance will be Himanta Biswa Sarma, the Congress
defector who played such a crucial role in the BJP victory. BJP chief ministers of Assam and Arunachal will also be members. The task is to let the lotus bloom across these sensitive border states.

Manipur Chief Minister Ibobi Singh is into his second term in office, having been in power since 2007. The majority community in Manipur are the Meiteis, living in the valley or the plain areas of the state. They are staunch Hindus, while the hill tribals including Nagas are mostly Christians. The RSS has operated in Manipur for several decades, though politically the BJP had little to show for it.

However this year for the first time in Manipur, in an Assembly by-election a BJP candidate had won. This perhaps is a reflection of things to come. The BJP will play the Hindu card to the hilt during the elections.

The Meities and the tribals in Manipur have had a history of discord. In the last decade tension has escalated as people fight over scarce resources. The Nagas living in Manipur's hill areas are loyal to the National Socialist Council of Nagaland. During peace talks with the Centre, the NSCN while giving up their demand for independence, had wanted the amalgamation of all areas where Nagas are presently scattered to form a Nagalim or Naga homeland. Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh had all protested the move. The protests from all the states, led to the idea being dropped. But new cause of tension has been the state governments attempts to protect the flow of people into the Manipur valley by ensuring that outsiders who enter should get an special permission, or an inner line permit. The people living in the hill areas of the state believe this would go against their interests.

One would expect that if the Meities are staunch Hindus and will now be inclined towards the BJP, the surprise is that the BJP is also working among the Christians who are mostly Nagas. The mystery accord that the NSCN ageing leaders Isaac Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah, makes most Nagas loyal to the outfit believe that the BJP is acceptable. At the same time the BJP has a good rapport with the Naga People's Front, which is ruling in Nagaland. The Nagaland government is also close to the NSCN. So Nagas in Manipur have no problems with the BJP.

Strangely enough the cow slaughter ban, the move against conversions by the Church, which is championed by the RSS and the extended Sangh Parivar does not seem to have touched Nagas here. At the same time the BJP's Hindutva ideology is being embraced by the Meities.

The reality is that the north eastern states, largely dependent on the Centre for funds, generally go with the party ruling in the Centre. So opportunist politicians especially those who dislike the chief minister may start leaving the Congress and joining the BJP. The BJP's thumping majority in neighbouring Assam has jolted Congress politicians in the North East. They realize that the mood of the people is clearly against the Congress. "You know how the politicians are. They don't believe in ideology and have no loyalty. They will leave a sinking ship at the first opportunity," said Babloo Loitongbam, a human rights activist in Imphal.

Tripura, is a Left bastion , where CPM Chief Minister Manik Sarkar runs a clean and efficient government. It will be difficult for the BJP to penetrate. In Mizoram, the Church calls the shots. It is unlikely that the Church will ask people to go for the BJP.

But the BJP is also trying to get a toe hold in Meghalaya, another Christian state, and getting a good response.

The BJP is also trying to get a toe hold in Meghalaya, another Christian state, and getting a good response. "The BJP is working very hard among the people here. Nalin Kohli comes here very often and the people's response has been good," said Patricia Mukhim, editor of Shillong Times. "No, the Hindu ideology of the BJP has not turned people away from the party. They want change and in Meghalaya I doubt the BJP will play the Hindu card, at least in this state.." She believes that people are tired of the Congress government, which seems jaded and unable to deliver. "There is a real vacuum in Meghalaya, and the BJP is filling that space," said Mukhim.

Meghalaya elections are in 2018, and the BJP has time to expand its network. The thriving Marwari community , who control most of the business across the North East are staunch BJP supporters.

Updated Date: May 26, 2016 18:49 PM

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