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Mainstream Weekly, VOL LVI No 15 New Delhi March 31, 2018

BJP’s Forays in North-Eastern States and Anti-Minority Agenda

Saturday 31 March 2018

by Ram Puniyani

From the last couple of decades one is coming across pamphlets, leaflets and other material containing the propaganda that Christian missionaries are converting the people at rapid pace; the examples given have been mostly of those of the North-Eastern States. This propaganda has been extensively used at the pan-India level, particularly before elections in most of the States. It is this propaganda which formed the basis of hate against Christians and we witnessed the ghastly murder of Pastor Graham Stewart Stains, the horrific Kandhamal violence, and low-intensity anti-Christian violence and attacks on churches in different parts of the country. So how come the BJP, the party flaunting its Ram temple, Mother cow and Hindu nationalism, could make its inroads into an area where in many States Christianity is the religion with a good presence of Christians, where beef-eating is part of the people’s dietary habits and where different tribes with diverse and clashing political interests articulate their aspirations by forming various groups which have been asking for separate States for their tribes?

While the situation in each State is different, there is a pattern of the BJP strategy, which in a flexible manner, supplemented by massive resources, near-perfect electoral machinery and the backing of its parent organisation’s swayam-sevaks is getting the cake in State after State. In Assam it focused mainly on the Bangladeshi immigrants, the Muslims swamping the State and threatened that Hindus would be reduced to a minority. It was clever enough to strike alliances even with separatist organisations. Most of the regional organisations in the area look at the Congress as the party which has not focused on development work, and the BJP, while at one level abuses those differing with its ideology as ‘anti nationals’, has no compunction at all in allying with those who have been talking of a separate State or even secession. In Tripura the Left Government, despite its clean record, failed to fulfil the aspirations of the tribals and OBCs in matters of reservation. It also failed miserably in creating employment opportunities for the youth which gave the ground to the BJP to promise and create the illusion of development.

The BJP here mainly harped on two major factors. One was the promise of development. As by now its claims of development all over the country stand exposed as mere vote-catching slogans, in the North-East they still could sell Modi as a development man. Manik Sarkar’s failure to implement the new Pay Commission’s recommendations must have hurt large numbers as they are still stuck at the Fourth Pay Commission while talk of the Seventh Pay Commission is in the air. In Tripura, they could also harp on ‘Hindus are refugees: Muslims are infiltrators’ to influence the Bengali Hindu votes. In the tribal area, the RSS swayamsevaks, working consistently by organising religious functions, opening schools etc. for a long time, have succeeded in turning the tables, as the Manik Sarkar Government failed to address the needs of the tribals in matters of opportunities. In matters of beef, the BJP openly took a hypocritical line that their ban on cow slaughter and eating beef, which is being imposed in different parts of country, will not be enforced in the North-East. As such also one knows that like most of the issues raised by the RSS-BJP, the holy cow is a political tool for dividing the society and when the crunch comes they manipulate the issue as they have done in Kerala and Goa on the issue of beef and cow slaughter.

In a very loud manner, towering over Christian voters, Modi talked of rescuing 46 nurses in ISIS captivity held in Iraq and Father Alex Premkumar from Taliban captivity. What can one say on these issues? Were they rescued as they were Indians or were they rescued because they belong to a particular religion? As is the wont with the Modi-type politics, they do take advantage of these incidents in a crass political manner. Despite the fact that their ideology regards Christians and Muslims as foreigners, they do at the same time manipulate these identities for electoral gains. In Tripura the majority of the Congress and TMC MLAs migrated to the BJP as well as their electoral support shifted to the BJP. What worked for the BJP here was the anti-Bangladeshi sentiment along with the illusory promise of development.

In Meghalaya, the situation was different. Though the Congress did emerge as the single largest party and logically should have been given the chance to form the government, the Hindu nationalist Governor thought otherwise and the second largest party, in alliance with practically everybody including the BJP, went on to form the government. Here the failure of the BJP to win over the electorate was writ large on the results; what put them in power was the alliance with a regional party, which was not having amicable attitude towards and good relations with the Congress. The role of the BJP’s all-round clout, including money and muscle power, was the undercurrent of the story.

There is a lot of lessons for the Left in Tripura to learn. The issue of addressing the problems of the youth, tribals and OBCs is paramount. In addition the issue of the BJP manipulating in all possible ways to come to power is something which can be ignored at the risk of severe decline in the electoral power of the Left and other parties. What is being labelled as the Karat line, that is, not allying with the Congress, will surely decimate the Left in times to come, probably sooner than later, as this line underestimates the potential and deeper agenda of the BJP-RSS. It ignores the threat of the powerful electoral machine built by the BJP over a period of time and its capability to manipulate issues, like beef and conversion by Christian missionaries, taking two opposite positions in different parts of the country, and getting away with it!

The emotive politics unleashed by the BJP/RSS is visible again in the form of attacking Lenin’s statues and attacks on CPM workers. What is in store for the future of the region if democratic forces don’t rise to the occasion is anybody’s guess!

The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.

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