Lok Sabha polls 2019: NRC may boomerang on BJP in North-East
Ironically in the north-east Bharatiya Janata party is battling against a problem which it has created for itself
The BJP this time is giving more attention and importance to the north-eastern States because it fears it may lose heavily in the Hindi heartland and the loss has to be made up by gains in West Bengal, Odisha and the north-east. But ironically in the north-east it is now battling against a problem which it has created for itself. This is the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which intends to give Indian citizenship to non-Muslims coming from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The people of north-east fear that if the Bill is passed (it could not be passed in either House of the outgoing Parliament), then Bengali Hindus from Bangladesh will flood the region and bring about a demographic change that will go against the local populace – the sons of the soil. Under the Assam Accord of 1985, immigrants who had come from Bangladesh to Assam before March 24, 1971 (the day Bangladesh declared independence) would be given citizenship. The proposed Amendment Bill violates the Assam Accord. And this is what the people of Assam are not going to accept.
The other irritant is the National Register of Citizens which is being drawn up in Assam. It has instilled fear among the Bengali-speaking Hindus and Muslims. To enlist one’s name in the Register, one has to bring a whole lot of documentary evidence which few can provide. Over forty million people were excluded from the first draft of the NRC. This raised a hue and cry from the affected people.
Now about the election scene. Except Assam, Arunachal and the plains of Manipur, most States in the region have a Christian majority population. The Church has a strong influence in civil life. Despite that the BJP did make some headway in the region. It is running the government in Arunachal Pradesh. Union Minister of State for Home, Kiren Rijiju, hails from Arunachal.
But recently the BJP suffered a landslide. On March 19, two ministers, six MLAs and 19 leaders left the BJP and joined the National People’s Party (NPP). The NPP was founded by the former Lok Sabha Speaker Purno Sangma. His son Conrad Sangma now leads the party. He is the Chief Minister of Meghalaya. Those who left the BJP have asserted the NPP will form the next government in Arunachal. The ensuing elections will be an ordeal for the BJP leadership, especially for Kiren Rijiju.
Nagaland sprang a surprise in the Assembly elections held in December last year. The BJP strength rose from just one MLA to a dozen. How could it do this miracle? The Naga People’s Front (NPF) was in power in the State. The Chief Minister was T. R. Zeliang. The party MP in Lok Sabha was Neiphiu Rio who had several times been the chief minister. The relationship between Zeliang and Rio was anything but cordial. There was a bitter power tussle between them.
BJP took advantage of it and succeeded in splitting the NPF three months before the election with the help of Rio. Rio quit the NPF and formed a new party -- the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP). The NPF was a constituent of the North-Eastern Democratic Alliance (NEDA), led by the BJP. After Rio floated the NDPP, the BJP did not formally withdraw support from the NDF nor did it openly support Rio and his party. But there was an understanding with him. Rio and his people helped the BJP in the polls. Magically, the BJP strength shot up in the new House from one to twelve.
Despite the split, NPF emerged the largest party with 27 MLAs, NDPP won 17 and the BJP 12. The strength of the NDPP and BJP together (29) still fell short of a majority in a House of 60. So, they roped in some of the smaller parties and formed the government with the NDPP.
In Tripura, BJP ally Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) with whom the BJP fought the Assembly elections in February last year, has broken its connexion with the saffron party. In the last elections, the BJP secured 43 per cent votes and won 36 seats. The CPI-M which lost power, polled a close 42.7 per cent votes but could win only 16 seats. The IPFT got 7.5 votes and eight seats. Others including the Congress failed to open an account.
Now, the IPFT has broken away from the BJP while the other tribal party, the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura (INPT), has joined hands with the Congress and the two parties have appealed to the IPFT to join them for defeating the BJP. The outcome of their parleys is not known. Their success will depend mainly on whether they are able to take on board the CPI-M, too. But the CPI-M will like to go it alone rather than join hands with others.
In Meghalaya, the National People’s Party (NPP) with 19 legislators is running the government with the help of some smaller parties. The Congress emerged as the single largest party with 21 MLAs but it was maneouvred out of power. The BJP contested 47 seats, secured 9.6 per cent votes and won just two seats. In the Lok Sabha elections, too, it will be a marginal player at best.
As things stand, the BJP’s hope of winning majority of the 25 Lok Sabha seats from the north-east, seems very unlikely