For many political pundits, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) reflects only the Hindutva sentiment with plentiful arrogances, but the enthusiastic party has cleverly formed a northeastern political alliance comprising various regional and ethnic political parties to dilute the said impression. The saffron party, which thrashed the ruling Congress in 2014 Lok Sabha elections under the banner of National Democratic Alliance (NDA), successfully realized a new forum called North East Democratic Alliance (Neda). The comprehensive development of the alienated region, resolving inter-State conflicts and giving fillip to New Delhi’s Act East Policy through the active participation of northeast India remain the major agendas of Neda, where as the inherent plan would be to counter the century old national political party in one of its strongholds.
BJP president Amit Shah, who ideologically shaped Neda, arrived in Guwahati to formally launch the political forum on 13 July, where he promised that all constituent parties in Neda would have an equal say in different matters. Mentioning about the unique experiment carried out in the region, Shah asserted that the BJP was determined to connect the region with the rest of India with rapid development fulfilling the aspirations of the young generation.
In fact, soon after the historic win in Assam Legislative Assembly polls in April this year, the BJP announced the formation of Neda for pursuing the development of the region. Most of the non-Congress political parties showed interest in joining the forum, headquartered in Guwahati, boosting the morale of BJP leaders (including PM Narendra Modi) to make ‘Northeast Congress-Mukta’.
The first meet, held in Guwahati on 24 May, the day Assam’s first BJP chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal took oath, was also graced by the BJP supremo along with the party’s national general secretary & Northeast in-charge Ram Madhav, who was credited for sealing the nationalist party’s alliance with Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) prior to Assam polls.
It may be mentioned that three years back a regional (read non-Congress) political forum named Northeast Regional Political Front was floated by the Naga People’s Front (NPF) and the AGP. Now as both the parties had joined in the new forum, it signals the silent death of the forum, which was launched in October 2013. Till date some important non-Congress (also non-Left) parties of the region namely Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF, in power at Gangtok), NPF (in power at Kohima), Mizo National Front (MNF, formerly in power at Mizoram), AGP & BPF (both are constituents of BJP led Assam government), Gana-Shakti (from Assam), Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), United Democratic Party (UDP) & National People’s Party (NPP) from Meghalaya have joined in the initiative.
Besides Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal, Nagaland chief minister TR Zeliang, the then Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Kalikho Pul, former Mizoram chief minister Pu Zoramthanga, AGP president Atul Bora, BPF supremo Hagrama Mohilary, Gana-Shakti chief Ranoj Pegu, Parliamentarian & NPP president Conrad Sangma along with Neda convener Himanta Biswa Sarma were present on the occasion.
Addressing the Neda convention, Union minister Kiren Rijiju, who hails from Arunachal Pradesh and newly inducted Union minister Rajen Gohain, who hails from Assam along with in-charge DoNER minister Jitendra Singh expressed optimism that the conclave would go a long way in meeting the aspirations of the people resolving prolong difference & disputes among various northeastern States.
The Guwahati Declaration, adopted in the conclave, narrated that in spite of having abundant natural & human resources, the region remained the victim of decades of apathy, indifference and under-development. In order to overcome various obstacles, an inclusive platform that represents the essence of the region was conceptualized and developed.
“The structural problems that confront its ethnic & indigenous groups, like unabated immigration, demographic invasion etc have been overlooked or patronized for narrow political and electoral gains, jeopardizing the very unique fabric of the region. As such, it is only a Congress free Bharat that can provide justice and honour to the people of northeast India,” added the declaration.
The immediate target of Neda however seems to be the Congress ruled Manipur, where the veteran Meitei leader Okram Ibobi Singh is approaching the end of his third term chief minister-ship. Congress strongman Ibobi led his party to win 2012 Assembly elections with 42 legislators (out of 60 seats) for the consecutive third term. But now more than 25 sitting Congress legislators are expecting to change their loyalty towards the saffron party, in and around the forthcoming
Assembly polls scheduled for early 2017.
However, the conclave faced a jerk on the inaugural day itself, as a verdict from the Supreme Court restored the Congress government at Itanagar toppling the Congress dissident Kalikho Pul’s regime. Facing the heat Pul agreed to wear the Congress attires again, at least, for some time.
The negative development had however never prevented the Neda convener Himanta Biswa Sarma to announce that the BJP and its alliance partners would grab all 25 Lok Sabha seats in the next general elections from the region. A powerful Assam minister, who abandoned the Congress party to join the Modi-Shah brigade before the Assam polls, also added that the poll-bound Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura, where State elections are due in 2018, would definitely pave the way for the BJP to strengthen its bases.
The author is a Guwahati based journalist and political commentator