Chandrani Sinha | Mar 27, 2019 | 9 min read
BJP pitched in electoral fights with allies in four states
Voters maintain silence, add to suspense
BJP’s ‘dream’ to win 22 seats in the Northeast may not come true
bill amendment row pushes allies away, to contest elections alone
Guwahati (Assam): Bharatiya Janata Party could pay a heavy price in the Northeast for taking a “tough stand” over the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which had stirred the Hornet’s nest in the region in December 2018 and January this year.
The bill was viewed as a threat to the indigenous population of the Northeast and had triggered widespread agitations. The BJP, which has set a target to win 22 out of 25 Lok Sabha seats spread over eight states in the region, may not find it easy as most of its erstwhile allies have decided to contest forthcoming polls on their own.
BJP national general secretary, Ram Madhav, after
holding discussions with the Asom Gana Parishad, Bodoland People's Front (BPF),
Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT), National People's Party,
Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party and the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha on
March 13 had hinted at “all not being well” for the BJP in the Northeast.
Addressing a news conference after winding up his Northeast visit, Madhav had said: “In some of the Lok Sabha seats, our Northeast Democratic Alliance (NEDA) partners are contesting against the BJP as they are contesting separately. We welcome their decision and wish them luck. However, after the elections, they will join the NEDA, and will support PM Modi post poll.”
Northeast Democratic Alliance falls apart
The Northeast Democratic Alliance (NEDA) is a political platform that was floated by BJP in 2016. The NEDA comprises of regional political parties from the Northeast and all of them are fundamentally anti-Congress. At least eight partners of NEDA had joined the agitation against the BJP led National Democratic Alliance government for taking a “tough stand” against the Citizenship amendment bill in December 2018 and January this year.
For the BJP it was important to cement its grip over
the electorate of the Northeast– quick pre-poll alliances were of great
significance but these have not gone as the BJP national president Amit Shah
had wished. BJP is now pitched in electoral fights in at least four states in
the Northeast. In Tripura, where there are two Lok Sabha seats, the IPFT -- BJP
ally in the state government -- has decided to fight against the BJP, turning
the poll battle multi-cornered with the Left and the Congress also in the fray.
“And this happened despite the negotiations being held by Ram Madhav himself,”
a BJP insider said.
Ideally BJP should have been on the roll in the Northeast, but it finds itself on a “sticky wicket” with almost everything – from party candidates to partners and even a resurgent opposition -- going against it.
couldn’t win single assembly seat in Mizoram
It all started last year. During the Nagaland assembly polls, BJP dumped its ally Naga People's Front (NPF) and entered into an alliance with the newly formed Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party led by Neiphiu Rio, incumbent Chief Minister of Nagaland. The NPF leader and former Nagaland chief minister T R Zeliang was a founder member of the NEDA.
Assembly polls in Mizoram last year witnessed a high voltage drama as NEDA partner, Mizo National Front (MNF), decided not to forge an alliance with the saffron party and go alone. BJP also fought the elections and could not win a single seat.
Rise of a new leader
What followed next was widespread agitation in the region over the Citizenship Amendment Bill. Local partners had no choice but to distance themselves from the BJP.
The Asom Gana parishad (AGP) left the BJP-led government over the bill. Now the bill has lapsed and the AGP has returned to the BJP fold, but by doing so the party has put its credibility at stake.
Protests against Citizenship bill saw the rise of a new popular leader in Northeast – Meghalaya Chief Minister, Conrad Sangma, and his party –National People's Party (NPP). The NPP has moved out of it’s home turf in Meghalaya and is contesting as many as 33 assembly seats in Arunachal Pradesh. The NPP has also fielded its candidates from 14 Lok Sabha seats in the Northeast. Though NPP is not averse to BJP but a pre-poll alliance with NPP, just like the AGP, would have taken the steam out of the backlash that BJP is still facing over Citizenship bill.
National general secretary of NPP Vivekraj Wangkhem said, “NPP has never believed in a pre-poll understanding as we have our own identity.”
He said that NEDA is a political alliance and not an electoral alliance. “We fought assembly polls in Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland alone and now we are contesting the elections in Arunachal Pradesh without entering into seat sharing agreement with any party. In a post-poll scenario we will take a call,” Wangkhem added.
Professor Akhil Ranjan Dutta of Gauhati University said, “The backlash against the BJP over Citizenship Amendment Bill made the regional allies uncomfortable. They had no choice but to back-off.”
“In run up to the elections, the anti-Citizenship
Amendment Bill protests have not sustained. The protesting groups are no more
talking about it and AGP has again rejoined the BJP,” Prof Dutta opined.
He said had the NPP led by present Meghalya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma deciding to contest the elections alone is big jolt for the BJP.
Professor Dutta claimed that Congress was unable to derive political mileage out of the agitation against the Citizenship Amendment Bill.
He said, “Voters here have also matured beyond emotive politics. This time the voters have maintained silence so it is difficult to read what’s in their mind. Ultimately it will be also about their day to day issues and if their MP has been able to solve these or not. Electorate would assess the performance of the government at state and Centre and BJP has more chances with new faces.”
Krantikari Morcha backs-off
Himalayan state of Sikkim would witness a simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly polls, to decide the fate of country’s longest serving Chief Minister, Pawan Kumar Chamling of Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF). The BJP has maintained ‘distance’ from Chamling and his party, although SDF has been a part of NEDA for the past one year.
The BJP was hoping to join hands with Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) main opposition party in Sikkim. The BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav had tweeted about both the parties entering into an alliance but SKM walked out from the deal.
BJP drops five sitting MPs in Assam
Barring Assam, the BJP has reposed faith in its sitting Members of Parliament in other Northeastern states.
In Assam BJP has dropped five of its seven sitting MPs, including veteran RSS functionary and MP from Tezpur R P Sarmah, who resigned in protests, Union minister of state for Railways Rajen Gohain from Nowgong constituency, party veteran – Bijoya Chakravarty from Guwahati and Ramen Deka from Mangaldoi.
In a surprising move BJP has not given ticket to
Himanta Biswa Sarma, convener of NEDA,
as the party wants him to deliver maximum seats in the Northeast rather
than concentrating on one seat, a very unlikely move from the BJP, which claims
to be a cadre based party and doesn’t usually rely on individuals.
Just before the general elections were announced Sarma while talking to reporters in Guwahati had said: “We have no doubts that BJP along with other NEDA partners will win as many as 21 seats out of 25 in Northeast. These MPs would help Narendra Modi to form government for second straight term.”
Rise and fall of BJP
In 2014 Lok Sabha poll, riding high on strong Modi wave, the BJP won seven out of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in Assam. There was a BJP surge, boosted by rebellion in the Congress. Massive switchover led by Himanta Biswa Sarma in 2016 Assembly polls in Assam saw history being created with the formation of the first BJP led government in the state.
To take the Assam success model across Northeast Ram Madhav brain stormed to form – the Northeast Democratic Alliance (NEDA) and Sarma was made its convener.
What followed in next three years set a record of sorts as Sarma- Madhav duo along with regional partners and dissident Congressmen made entire Northeast “Congress mukt.”
Out of eight Northeastern states, BJP led the government in four – Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura. BJP is a part of two other governments in Nagaland and Meghalaya and their NEDA partners are in power in Mizoram and Sikkim.
In fact, a year back, in March 2018, BJP national president Amit Shah while participating in a NEDA meeting had laid out the framework about how BJP and its allies would approach Lok Sabha polls – the agenda was set – maximum seats from the Northeast but the things have not fallen at place.
Senior Congress leader and former Chief Minister of Assam Tarun Gogoi said that “BJP government has nothing to show for itself in Assam. That’s the reason it has dropped so many sitting MPs and brought new faces.”
Gogoi claimed that Congress has “regained its lost ground” across Northeast. “Many regional parties can also come with us in a post poll scenario, that’s something which the BJP is very uncomfortable and scared about,” he added.
to contest 3 seats only
In Assam, the second most powerful opposition political party–All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) has decided to contest only three Lok Sabha segments that it had won in 2014. The party, led by Badaruddin Ajmal has influence over Bengali speaking Muslims of Assam and in 2014 the party contested seven seats. The BJP is calling it a Congress proxy.
BJP’s state president Ranjeet Dass said, “AIUDF was formed with minority agenda. In the past they have fought sometimes against Congress and on few occasions as an ally of the Congress party but this time it’s no secret as AIUDF is contesting from three seats only.”
He said that BJP is not only contesting in Hindu dominated areas but also from the places where minorities have a say.
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