Message from the Northeast

The BJP may not see a windfall in the region, but its fortunes are set to improve.

Updated: April 8, 2014 11:36 pm
The BJP and the Congress cannot afford to ignore the significant role that single-state parties in the Northeast continue to have in the era of coalition politics. The BJP and the Congress cannot afford to ignore the significant role that single-state parties in the Northeast continue to have in the era of coalition politics.

BY: Khamkhansuan Hausing

The BJP may not see a windfall in the region, but its fortunes are set to improve.

Even as five electoral constituencies in Assam and one in Tripura went to the polls on April 7, with more lined up on April 9, 12 and 24, the Northeast has caught an unusual amount of attention from the national media. This not only underscores better connectivity of the region with mainland India which makes the “live telecast” of immediate electoral campaigns and events compelling, it also shows how the region, which accounts for 25 Lok Sabha seats, has been transformed into an important electoral battleground by the compulsions of coalition politics.

Not surprisingly, Narendra Modi, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, has already made three rounds of campaigning in the region between February 8 and March 30. Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi of the Congress have had one extensive tour each in the region so far, during this time.

These campaigns highlighted the contrasting styles and strategies of Modi and the Gandhis in as much as they highlighted their similarities. Modi and the Gandhis have laboriously concentrated their campaigns in constituencies where their strengths are being tested, namely, Silchar and Pasighat for the BJP and Guwahati and Lakhimpur for the Congress. Unlike the above, Sikkim and Tripura did not figure prominently in their campaigns, which suggested their acceptance of the fait accompli: given that the Sikkim Democratic Front and the CPM, respectively, have an unassailable electoral hold over these two states, neither the BJP nor the Congress is likely to make inroads.

While Modi made a serious effort to project himself as an efficient and decisive leader with a pan-India appeal and showed his determination to wipe out the “corrupt” and “inefficient” Congress, the Gandhis underscored the autocratic and divisive leadership style of Modi. They also emphasised the longstanding contribution of the Congress to inclusive development, secularism and decentralisation in the region and beyond. Reportedly, Modi’s theatrical speeches in Imphal, Guwahati, Silchar and Pasighat have not only shored up enthusiasm among the conservative Hindu segments of the populations, but also boosted the morale of party workers, particularly in the three states of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.

Taking this lead, most political analysts focus their attention on the possible impact these high-profile campaigns might have on the Northeast’s electoral politics in general and on immediate electoral outcomes in particular. While the query is a valid one, it is equally important to underline the diversity of issues and conditions prevailing in the Northeast electoral scene that might obscure the tangible effect(s) these campaigns have on immediate electoral outcomes.

At the outset, it must be noted that these campaign tours came after major electoral battlelines have already been drawn up in the Northeast. The North East Regional Political Front (NERPF), led by the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the Naga People’s Front (NPF), was formed in October 2013 by 10 like-minded regional parties to “protect the distinctive identities of the ethnic tribes and all the people of the region.” Like the North East People’s Forum formed by P.A. Sangma in 2003, the NERPF aligns itself with the BJP and is jointly fighting against the Congress in the region.

Again like the NEPF, the NERPF underscores an incongruous coalition politics as some of the constituent members, like the BJP and NPF on the one hand, and the BJP and AGP on the other hand, are respectively competing against each other in outer Manipur’s constituency and in Assam. Giving primacy to winnability, the BJP is content to play second fiddle in Nagaland and especially in Mizoram, where it has set up a coalition of eight single-state parties under the banner of United Democratic Front principally led by the Mizo National Front to oust the incumbent Congress MP. If opinion pollsters are to be believed, the BJP is likely to improve its current tally of four to five seats in Assam by cutting into the AGP’s support base and also win a seat in Arunachal.

It might be recalled that the AGP in its heydays played a critical role in the formation and sustenance of the ninth Lok Sabha under the V.P. Singh-led National Front (NF) government in 1989-90, and the 11th Lok Sabha both during the H.D. Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujral led-United Front (UF) government in 1996-97. The consolidation of the Congress in Assam under Tarun Gogoi towards the end of the 1990s has electorally emasculated the role of the AGP not only in the state but also at the national level. Yet, no sensible coalition-makers like the BJP and the Congress, which are alive to coalition realpolitik, can afford to ignore the significant role that single-state parties continue to have in the era of coalition politics.

In undertaking extensive electoral campaigns in the Northeast, Modi and the BJP know for sure that they are fighting against heavy odds. Given that the Congress has a longstanding hold on the state legislative assemblies of five of the eight Northeast states, namely, Arunachal, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya and Mizoram, and also given that out of the 21 seats in these states on offer, the Congress held 16 seats in the 15th Lok Sabha, the BJP does not have much electoral space to manoeuvre.

The emphatic way in which Modi reassured Nido Taniam’s family and the people of the Northeast that he and his party would eliminate discrimination against them if voted to power, which is also incidentally incorporated into the recently released Congress manifesto, has won some hearts. Despite the inconvenient Hindutva baggage Modi carries, he and his party are seen to be more decisive in settling the stalemated Indo-Naga conflicts. Coincidentally, Neiphiu Rio, the Nagaland chief minister who adopted an “equidistance policy” against the armed groups in Nagaland and who facilitated the extension of the Indo-Naga ceasefire agreement since 2001 is one of the leading candidates. He is reported to have been promised a cabinet berth by the BJP if voted to power.

Many single-state parties in the Northeast have had more comfortable relationships with non-Congress governments, whether the NF, UF or NDA. Indeed, the most extensive development grants and the crucial formation of MDONER (Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region), run by the non-lapsable pool of resources which is drawn from 10 per cent of unspent budgetary allocation of all Central ministries, happened during NDA rule. Although the promised infrastructural developments have never taken off in right earnest in the region, their symbolic significance cannot be dismissed altogether.

Even as the BJP is likely to reopen its account in Arunachal after a decade and improve its tally in Assam, some pollsters have also predicted a surprise win of its Front in Mizoram. The eight odd seats projected to be won by the BJP in the Northeast may not come as a big windfall, yet they would certainly be too significant to ignore either in the making or unmaking of a coalition government at the Centre.

The writer teaches political science at the University of Hyderabad

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  1. $
    Apr 9, 2014 at 6:38 am
    Does BJP have a concrete plan and solutions for TRIPURA issues?Can BJP make an impact and help transform TRIPURA ?I wish BJP make a positive impact (where it is much needed) and help transform TRIPURA. Youths of TRIPURA (2nd highest populous state in NORTHEAST) have been languishing in complete frustration for over a decade now (recent news on TRIPURA can be refereed for details) due to lack of -- meaningful development, Best of the industries and quality professional employment opportunities, Best of the cl healthcare, Proactiveness in being nationally and globally compeive.Is there any ray of hope for TRIPURA ?Does anyone know why capital AGARTALA is not yet even an inch near to a tier-2 city like PUNE ?Does anyone know what TRIPURA have achieved (in terms of giving its educated youth much needed professional career opportunities at par with other progressive states) till date by focusing on natural resource (rubber, bamboo, plastic) based industry, which in progressive states (e.g. Karnataka, Maharashtra) is considered as intermediary industry, while IT and High Tech industry are the prime economy drivers !!Does any one know HOW LONG (and WHY) people of TRIPURA (Youths especially) have to languish in backwardness when rest of the progressive states are vying for attention from top IT MNCs and High Tech firms to set up their base ??If tier 2 cities like PUNE, GURGAON can achieve same through right mix of people, policies, push and willingness to embrace technology and compeion - why can't AGARTALA ??Hope much needed ECONOMIC VIBRANCY (like Bangalore, Mumbai, Gurgaon, Pune, Chennai, Hyderabad) is created in AGARTALA (to emerge as new CYBER CITY of India!) with best of the policies and setting up of World Cl Infrastructures.Really hope leadership in CENTER, TRIPURA Govt and Other Concerned DIGNITARIES takes a FUTURISTIC and PROGRESSIVE approach and goes BIG to put TRIPURA into national & international scheme of things and strives hard in making AGARTALA into an world cl city signifying uprising India's growing prowess!We really need to move forward by developing TRIPURA with world cl infrastructures and bring it at par with best of the other Indian states in the shortest possible time!Yes - we do have logistical issues in terms of connectivity,tough terrains - which slowly but surely being overcomed with multiple links opening up through Bangladesh,Myanmar!Appreciating TRIPURA Govt and Center on the development works so far,would request to set higher goals and aim to make TRIPURA the new face of emerging India!Some of the very important issues plauging TRIPURA badly:1DUSTRY - Not a single High Tech corporate, Big MNCs - especially economy driving Service Sector (from IT, High Tech - source of higher disposable income - source of thriving economy) have a presence in TRIPURA - Need of the hour (with major connectivity projects on and due for completion in next 1-2 years) is to have many of these companies (e.g. IBM,Accenture,TCS, Infosys, Wipro,HCL,Cognizant) set up Delivery & Consultancy centers (by facilitating them with setting up of necessary IT zones / parks with due URGENCY) - Which is a must to open up window of professional opportunities (and m employment) for bright (More than 6 lakhs UNEMPLO !!) youths of the state. TRIPURA is also home to mive talent pool with combination of huge number of working professionals (working in other Metros and abroad currently), local educated youths, youths (and working professionals) from neighboring NORTHEAST states and legal working professionals from Bangladesh and Neighboring countries!2.LIFESTYLE - Not a single world cl 5 star hotel (Taj, Leela, Oberoi, ITC), World cl shopping mall (Phoenix Market city Mumbai, LuLu International Shopping Mall Kochi, Mantri Square mall Bangalore), multiplexes (PVR, Big Cinemas, INOX) , World cl Retail chains (Walmart, IKEA, Pantaloons,Shoppers Stop, Croma, Reliance Retail etc) exists in TRIPURA - Need of the hour is to have many and which is a must for a better and modern lifestyle for both people of State as well as thousands of (domestic and international) tourists arriving in the state.3.EDUCATION - Not a single higher education insute of national importance (IIM, IIT, IISc, AIIMS, Symbiosis management insutes, Xavier management insutes etc ...) exists in TRIPURA - Need of the hour is to have many (given the fact that a huge number of students from TRIPURA migrates to other states for pursuing Engineering, Medical and Management from best of the insutes) which is a must to bring youths at par to the ones in other part of India !!4.HEALTHCARE - Not a single HOSPITAL of national importance (in terms of proven quality and trusted b) exists in TRIPURA which is a must for those helpless people of state who has to run around and rush to Chennai and other cities for treatment even during those critical hours of life! - Need of the hour is to go PROACTIVE and INVITE best of the bs available (e.g FORTIS, APPOLO, MANIPAL Hospitals) to set up their HOSPITAL CHAINS at AGARTALA, at the same time highlighting enormous business opportunities they can derive from Medical Tourism Market comprising of Tourists coming from other Northeast states, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan and other Neighboring countries.5.RAIL - Really hope TRIPURA gets connected to Trans-Asian Railway (TAR) Network with individual lines to MYANMAR and BANGLADESH - in the earliest possible time. Given the huge prospect of being a important Rail hub (catering to domestic and international traffic) connecting NORTHEAST to SE Asia and further to Europe, Hope AGARTALA rail station gets transformed into a world cl Rail station (with best of the technologies, equipments, infrastructure and amenities) in the line of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (Maharashtra) and Chennai Central station (Tamil Nadu). Also, need of the hour is to have a seamless Rail connectivity between all the NE capitals (Mumbai-Chennai like network need to be put in place for people to move across NORTHEAST easily without any hles/security issues).6.CITY TRANSPORT - Not the best of the Road Infrastructure and City Transport System is in place in AGARTALA! Need of the hour is to have world cl technology and equipments embedded in ROADS and PUBLIC TRANSPORT VEHICLES ; and install a organized process in place - with something like Ahmedabad Bus Rapid Transit system, Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation, Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System! Does anyone know when AGARTALA METRO will be flagged off ?7.AIRPORT - Really hope AAI comes up with an world cl international terminal (in the line of Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore , Mumbai Airports) in AGARTALA with modern technology, infrastructure, equipments and best of the amenities! With growing economic linkage between INDIA and other ASEAN countries (latest being PM's visit to an and Thailand) as part of INDIA's LOOK-EAST POLICY,it hardly leaves any room for imagination - the role AGARTALA going to play in near future being the hub of international trade. And SMOOTH and AROMATIC flow of INTERNATIONAL and DOMESTIC travelers (includes businessman, tourists, patients, students) will hold key to fully realize potential of LOOK-EAST policy envisioned by INDIA's leadership.8.WATER Ways - Need of the hour is to set up World Cl Inland ports (in the line of Kaladan Multi-modal Transit Transport Project) on TRIPURA rivers and waterways and connect them to Bangladesh and Myanmar Sea and River ports, which would ease TRIPURA's landlockedness to a significant extent and improve Supply Chain and Logistical delivery of goods and services!9.BUSINESS MEET - Not a single global investor meet organised yet in AGARTALA (whereas in Karnataka, Gujarat and even Chattisgarh these are almost frequent affairs - Recent one being PUNJAB getting thousands of crores of investment out of a Investor Summit !!). Need of the hour is organize such event which would surely put TRIPURA in global map and radar of world cl corporates!10.SPORTS - Not a single International stadium exists in AGARTALA to hold national and international level football and cricket tournaments (ODI, T20, Test matches, IPL,Challengers League etc) !!! Need of the hour is to set up an World Cl International stadium with latest technology, infrastructure, equipments and best of the amenities (to the level of Eden Gardens Stadium, M Chinnaswamy Stadium, M. A. Chidambaram Stadium) to facilitate football and cricket crazy fans of TRIPURA (2nd Populous NE state!!), fans from neighboring NE states and neighboring countries of Bangladesh & Myanmar, budding cricketers from NORTHEAST to watch their favorite STARS in action !! This would also be a huge boost to Tourism, Relationship build up with neighboring countries, Opening up of many other avenues in industry starved NORTHEAST TRIPURA! For an instance, even though INDIA will be hosting 2017 U-17 FIFA world cup, there seems to be no chance of having few matches pla in TRIPURA - though that would be the nicest thing to bring WORLD much closer to NORTHEAST TRIPURA !!11.BUSINESS ZONE - Really hope AGARTALA gets incorporated in the proposed BCIM (Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar) corridor project , which will surely help TRIPURA leverage it's strategic location of being India's Gateway to SOUTHEAST ASIA!!12.TOURISM - There seems to be no concerted approach in Bing and Marketing TRIPURA TOURISM with a wider internet reach through Social Media network, Top travel and hospitality web sites (in the line of Maharashta Tourism, Tamilnadu Tourism, Uttar Pradesh Tourism, Kerala Tourism, Goa Tourism) even though there is a huge scope for TRIPURA in both National and International Tourism Market.Also urgent need of the hour is to complete all the existing infrastructure projects as soon as possible and identification and sanctioning of all other infrastructure projects fulfilling above infrastructure gaps without any further delay!Anything less than 'WORLD CL' would only defeat the very purpose behind infrastructure development of TRIPURA under LOOK-EAST Policy!!IMPOSSIBLE - just means I AM POSSIBLE! If India need to catch up with developed part of the world,the most strategically placed Northeast (especially TRIPURA) need to be made into a developed region in the shortest possible time!I strongly believe TRIPURA govt (in close co-ordination with Center, other concerned dignitaries & all corporate vissionaries) can certainly achieve this sooner rather than late, which would definitely give its people a better employment opportunities, a better healthcare, a better access to quality education, a quality lifestyle, and last but not the least a confident and connected TRIPURA leading India's charge towards contributing to a more stable and stronger global economy!!