Papering over: tough balancing act for BJP in the Northeast

The BJP is acutely aware that its presence has been patchy across regions and social groups, historically. Its storied victory in 2014, with 282 seats in the Lok Sabha, came primarily from the States in the north and the west. Barring Karnataka, the BJP has yet to have any notable presence in the southern States. However, in 2014 the BJP did make inroads into Assam by winning seven of its 14 seats, and it sensed an opportunity to expand its foothold in the State and further into the Northeast. The party has been roping in regional partners and expanding its individual strength in the region with remarkable aggression since then. It led an alliance to victory in 2016 in Assam, and in 2018 in Tripura it defeated the Left Front, which had been in power for five terms. As of today, four of the eight Chief Ministers in the region are from the BJP and it is a partner in ruling coalitions in three. The BJP has labelled its partnerships in the Northeast as a distinct entity, the North East Democratic Alliance, under the NDA umbrella.

Last week, the BJP managed to woo back the Asom Gana Parishad that had quit the alliance in January over differences on the Citizenship Amendment Bill. Besides reviving ties with the AGP, the BJP sealed agreements for the Lok Sabha elections with the Bodoland People’s Front, Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura, National People’s Party, Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party and Sikkim Krantikari Morcha. These cover Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Sikkim, respectively. The BJP says it aims to win 22 of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in the region. The Hindutva party’s foray into the Northeast in the past often involved legal sophistry and manoeuvring. With its strength saturated in its strongholds, the BJP has compulsions to look for fresh terrains to grow but its efforts in the Northeast are significant for more long-term reasons. The region has remained on the periphery of India’s geographical and cultural imagination. The BJP is considered, for good reason, a party of Hindu-Hindi nationalism with scant regard for the aspirations of people and issues of the region. In its efforts to woo the Northeast, here the party has soft-pedalled its strident cow protection agenda that has a sharp anti-minority edge. On amending the law to make the route to Indian citizenship easier for non-Muslims from neighbouring countries — a deeply divisive issue in the Northeast — the party has agreed to not talk about it during the election campaign. That does not mean the BJP is softening its stand on the issue. The fundamental contradiction between the ethnicity-oriented politics of the region and the BJP’s religion-inspired politics is visible in the debate on the Bill. But these alliances can also be the vehicle for negotiation and accommodation. Either way, it will be a tough balancing act.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2022 10:11:30 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/papering-over-tough-balancing-act-for-bjp-in-the-northeast/article26572297.ece

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