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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 12 New Delhi March 10, 2018

Message from the North-East

Monday 12 March 2018


The BJP has embarked on a media blitzkrieg that it has swept the North-East in the recent Assembly elections and is closer to its goal of a Congress-mukt Bharat. Do the election results confirm its claim? In Tripura, it trounced the CPI-M and ended its quarter-century-old rule. But to a large extent the CPI-M will have to thank itself for its humiliating defeat. It had failed to realise the extent of its isolation from the people. It knew that RSS workers had fanned out across the State long before the elections and were silently doing the groundwork for the BJP’s electoral victory but apparently ignored the threat.

The CPI-M failed to shake off its complacence and its attitude of taking the people for granted. It failed to understand that the image of Chief Minister Manik Sarkar as a soft-spoken, unassuming and incorruptible leader, who led a Spartan life, was not enough to earn the people’s confidence again. True, resource-wise the CPI-M was no match for the BJP—those familiar with the electoral scene in Tripura claim that this time money flowed like water—but if the party had not lost its organic links with the masses, money alone could not have dislodged it from power. The way Sarkar was heckled and booed in the counting booth by the BJP workers is an ominous portent for the CPI-M. Already, reports of CPI-M offices being attacked are coming.

In Meghalaya, the BJP won just two of the sixty seats and is playing second fiddle to Conrad Sangma’s National People’s Party which has won 19 seats. Even that does not give the combine a majority. Several smaller parties have been roped in. The Congress, which emerged as the single largest party with 21 seats and was trying to woo some of the regional parties, has been left high and dry. The Grand Old Party was once again outmanoeuvred by the BJP.

In Nagaland, the BJP won 12 seats but even here it fell behind its electoral ally, the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) which won 17 seats. Together, their tally came to 29, still short of a clear majority. On the eve of the polls, the BJP broke with its old ally, the Naga People’s Front, and helped Neiphiu Rio, a former Chief Minister who was the chairman of the NPF, to float a new outfit, the NDPP. Still the NPF has emerged as the single largest party, winning 29 seats, levelling with the BJP-NDPP combine.

In Nagaland, there was another crucial factor at play. Cutting across political lines, the Nagas demanded that the seven-decade-old ‘Naga political problem’ be now solved once and for all. In August, 2015, the Prime Minister signed a ‘framework agreement’ with the NSCN(IM), the major rebel outfit, but the contents of the agreement have not been made public till date. Now that the BJP-NDPP combine has won and is going to form the government, it has to spell out its stand on this vexed issue. The Nagas are no longer insisting on secession and the creation of an independent Nagaland, but they are firm in their resolve to have Nagalim—or the integration of the Naga-dominated areas of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh in a single State. But the three concerned States are equally determined not to cede a single square inch of their territory to the proposed Nagalim. How the BJP-led Centre with the help of the Nagaland Government cuts the Gordian knot remains to be seen. A dragging of feet on this issue will create problems for the Centre.

The poll results have falsified the generally held view that the BJP’s aggressive Hindutva politics and its insistence on banning cow slaughter and beef-eating will alienate the tribal people. Why Hindutva and beef-eating failed to have any impact on large sections of the people of Christian-majority Meghalaya and Nagaland who voted for the BJP needs to be gone into and analysed. The people often prove wrong the a priori theories and assumptions of political pundits.

As far as the Congress is concerned, an old grievance of the Congress workers of the North-East has been that they find it very difficult to have a meeting with either Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi who has now become the party chief. They complain that often they had to wait for days and weeks in New Delhi but still failed to get an appointment with either the mother or the son. They blame the ‘courtiers’ surrounding Sonia and Rahul for this. They maintain that if they were allowed to see either of them then the intra-party feuds in many States could have been resolved in time and would not have resulted in flocks of disappointed and disgusted Congressmen leaving the party and joining the BJP.

A Congress worker of Tripura said that the High Command had thought of Tripura as a State which sends only two MPs to the Lok Sabha and so it does not count for much in national politics. The party is paying the price for it. If the Congress has to emerge as a major player in the North-East, it has to give special attention to the region and give up its traditional thinking in terms of the number of seats the North-East has in Parliament. The leadership has to reach the grassroot level workers of the party and keep constantly in touch with them.

All in all, the BJP’s success in the North-East this time is the result of complacence and isolation from the people—of the CPI-M in Tripura and of the Congress by and large in the North-East. Never before has the Congress failed to open an account in the Tripura and Nagaland State Assemblies. To regain the North-East the CPI-M and Congress will have to reforge their links with the people and stop thinking in terms of the number of seats the North-East has in Parliament. To stem the tide of the BJP on the roll, the CPI-M and the Congress will have to join forces and not treat each other as untouchables.

Seen in this context, particularly unfortunate is the statement of the Kerala CPI-M leader, M. A. Baby, that “the Congress should first reconstruct itself as a secular party before others align with it to fight the Sangh Parivar. The Congress is pursuing a soft Hindutva line. The election outcome attests that there is a situation everywhere in which Congressmen can join BJP.” Does Comrade Baby need to be reminded that way back in 1969 it was none other than E.M.S. Namboodiripad who bifurcated the Palghat district in Kerala to create the new district of Mallapuram, keeping an eye on his party’s electoral prospects? If the CPI-M does not shed its Left-sectarianism even now, it will do incalculable harm to itself and to the cause of unity of secular and democratic forces.

However, it is heartening to find former Kerala CM V.S. Achuthandan, who was known to be a hardliner, taking a much broader view of the prevailing situation and calling for the unity of all the secular forces to defeat the communal BJP on the prowl. That indeed is the message from the North-East following the outcome of the Assembly elections in the three North-Eastern States.

Meanwhile, as we go to press reports have come that in two placess in Tripura Lenin’s statues have been demolished by some persons shouting “Bharat Mata ki Jai”. This has sent shock-waves across the entire political spectrum and sparked a sense of outrage even among those who do not subscribe to the Left ideology.

March 6 B.D.G.

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