Insecurity and Hindu votes: Here's how BJP is taking over North East
Despite the drubbing they received in West Bengal, the saffron party is pretty happy with the new grounds that they have broken in the North East.
The recent Assembly election in five states has given many reasons for the BJP to celebrate.
Despite the drubbing the party received in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, the saffron party is pretty happy with the new grounds that they have broken in the North East. After the sweeping victory in Assam, BJP is now ready to start a new political chapter in the northeastern part of the country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in Shillong on Thursday to will address the North Eastern Council (NEC) meeting. The NEC is the nodal agency for all economic and social development in the eight Northeastern states - Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura.
The meeting is likely to be a crucial for the North East because it is after nearly three decades that a prime minister will be attending the NEC meeting.
The BJP is driving the Vikas Parv all the way with party chief Amit Shah recently announcing the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), a collection of parties and leaders with the BJP at its core, that will seek to extend their footprint over states across the reason. Himanta Biswa Sarma, a former Congressman whose defection played a major role in the Assam victory, has been named convenor of the new NEDA. NEDA is aimed at improving coordination among the NDA partners in the northeastern states and strengthening their base in the region.
BJP's thumping victory in Assam was 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. As Seema Guha points out in this piece, xenophobia of "outsiders" is a common binding thread 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."
The party is now training its guns on Manipur, which goes to the polls in February 2017 and then Meghalaya, which goes to polls in 2018. 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 is lending support from outside to the Kaliho Pul-led government, a dissident Congress leader, whereas in Nagaland, it is part of the ruling coalition. Tripura is under Left rule, while Mizoram is under the Congress.
In Manipur, majority community are the Meitis, a community comprising mainly of staunch Hindus. The RSS has been working in Manipur for decades now, even though politically, the BJP has little to show for it. However, a BJP canidate's win in the by-election this year is quite indicative of how things might go for the saffron party in the future. The BJP will play the Hindu card to the hilt during the elections.
Surprisingly, the BJP is also working with the Christians in Nagaland. The majority of Nagas are Christians. The mystery accord that the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) ageing leaders Isaac Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah, makes most Nagas loyal to the outfit believe that the BJP is acceptable.
Seema Guha writes: "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."
And let's not forget BJP's vision of a Congress-mukt Bharat. The formation of NEDA was crucial considering three of the remaining seven Congress ruled states in the country are in that region – Manipur, Meghalaya and Mizoram.
BJP has been astute with their allies in the North East as well. The decision to ally with three northeastern regional party could be the masterstroke that the BJP needs to dislodge the congress from the region.
With an ineffective Opposition like the Congress and with the BJP playing on the insecurities of the northeastern states of India, the saffron party has its eyes on consolidating Hindu votes and make its presence felt in all the eight states. Mizoram, Meghalaya, Tripura and Assam share very long borders with Bangladesh and the fear of immigrants is not a new phenomenon in the North East. Many an election campaign has been fought and won on stoking fear and hatred of a foreign and Muslim population that's "bent on destroying and taking over communities."
This also puts the fear of job insecurity among the locals, to which the BJP has been to quick to latch on. Most of the jobs in the North East come from the unorganised and unregulated sectors. Constitutional and labour laws are in place but it is almost insignificant raising the insecurities of the locals. "Jobs that local populations won’t even look at are done by them for wages that are very low."
Clearly, with the formation of NEDA and their allies in the northeastern region, BJP has sounded the bugle. If one goes by record, the north eastern states, largely dependent on the Centre for funds, generally go with the party ruling in the Centre. And people are not averse to the BJP playing the Hindutva card there.
With a jaded Congress, that has not been delivering in the region, BJP is planning to strike and rule in the upcoming elections in 2017 and 2018.
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