Saturday, March 29, 2014

The nine sisters of the North-East

We, the denizens of North-Eastern India know that it is considered as a backward area that most  Indians will never visit over their lifetimes. Man Mohan Singh is supposedly the Rajya Sabha MP from Axom but he remains a stranger to his (adopted) state.

The North-East has large cohorts of non-Hindus (majority Protestant denominations) who are not expected to align with the "Manuvadi" party (aka BJP). The Congress (with a Roman Catholic at the top) should be a natural fit (unless one digs deep and discovers historical rivalry between Protestants and Catholics).

As an aside the BJP supremo has been busy cultivating the Syrian "Brahmins" from Kerala and they seem to love him back (probably united by animosity against muslims). 

Also as expected, the Hindu communities are divided in their loyalties. Bengalis in Tripura will vote for the Communist Party (CPIM) while the Axomia (in the Brahmaputra river valley) will vote for an Axom-first party. The Bengali Hindus of Barak river valley switch their allegiance alternately between the Congress and the BJP.

If we include Sikkim and North Bengal in the N-E kitty, the Lok Sabha seats are laid out as follows: Arunachal Pradesh-2, Axom-14, Manipur-2, Meghalaya-2, Mizoram-1, Nagaland-1, Sikkim-1, Tripura-2, Bengal- 3 (north bengal seats). Total- 28.

As late as July 2013, Congress was optimistic about collecting 20 seats (not including Sikkim/North Bengal). This would be vital for the Mission 115 plan (114 was the minimum no for Congress in 1996).

Now there is a major problem, the local mansabdars have ganged up against the Delhi durbar. 

The back-story is as follows: Purno Sangma (pix above, with daughter Agatha Sangma- MP) was originally a Congress leader who was expelled in 1999 (along with Tariq Anwar and Sharad Pawar) for having the audacity to question the leadership of the Grand Madam. Sangma was also the 2012 presidential candidate chosen by the BJP (against Pranab Mukherjee). Thus the personality clash goes far back and the break-up may be permanent at this point. 

If the North-East coalition matures into a permanent pressure group (as it should, if it had any sense) then the entire region may become out of bounds for the Congress (as an independent player) just like what has happened in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, UP,.....

As of now the distinctive issues that float the North-East boat are (1) migrants from Bangladesh (all provinces), (2) China threat (Arunachal only) and (3) Armed Forces Special Powers Act (Manipur only). Interestingly enough BJP has promised to review AFSPA, perhaps by proposing to dial down AFSPA in the north-east while maintaining status quo in Kashmir. 

Finally what about the famous TINA factor that keeps the muslims permanently locked inside the Congress barracks everywhere? A lot of blood was spilled in the 2012 riots in Goalpara and neighboring regions of Axom (also known as Bodoland). Tarun Gogoi (Congress Chief Minister of Axom) was accused of favoritism as muslims suffered disproportionately. While the outside world does not give a damn, the muslims themselves are unlikely to forgive/forget.  
A newly-formed regional front of parties from the northeast today said it is in consultations with BJP for support to its candidates for the Lok Sabha polls.

Former Lok Sabha Speaker P A Sangma, whose National People's Party (NPP) is part of the North-East Regional Political Front, however, said that the grouping will have no truck with the UPA.

NPP, Asom Gana Parishad, Mizo National Front and Nagaland People's Front are among the 10 regional parties from northeast which have formed the NERPF against the Congress-led UPA to fight the Lok Sabha elections in the region. Sangma's NPP and Nagaland's NPF are also part of the NDA.

NERPF, floated last October, will contest 21 out of 25 Lok Sabha seats in eight northeast states.

Blaming Congress for the "problems" in the northeast, Sangma said, "NPP and NPF are very much part of the NDA and other parties of the front are free to have alliance with any party at national level but definitely not with Congress."

The front also expressed its reservation over the functioning of electronic voting machines and demanded alternative arrangement for casting votes in the Lok Sabha elections.

"We urge Election Commission to abolish EVM system as it is not foolproof and we do not have faith in it. We suspect it can be tampered with," Sangma, who will be contesting from Tura constituency in Meghalaya, said. "If at all EVMs will be used then they should be supported with paper slips," he said.

Raising the issue of frequent incursion of China on Arunachal border, he said, "We want the government to ensure prevention of such incidents in future."

Referring to the issue of infiltration of illegal migrants from Bangladesh, he blamed the UPA government for failing to take effective steps against influx from across the border. He also demanded immediate scrapping of the AFSPA


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