We all know that the Congress made a mess of Assam by encouraging reckless vote-bank politics. But the way the Opposition party tried to project the issue and instead created a ruckus in the Parliament on Wednesday by calling all the wrong shots, one wonders whether a change in guard in New Delhi will really effect any change on the ground.
Veteran BJP leader LK Advani said that the problem in Assam is not an ethnic but only an immigration issue. The basic understanding goes awry there. The case of Assam has historically been one of ethnic clashes, facilitated by complex socio-cultural realities and a huge tragedy called Partition compounded the problem, by means of immigration.
Issues pertaining to democracy and economic development and of course, a secular leadership, can alleviate the problems for the northeast in general and Assam in particular. Can the BJP come up with an alternative plan, which can substantially alleviate the problems in Assam if not totally resolve them, instead of just attacking the UPA government and calling it 'illegitimate'?
BJP is a limited force in the northeast
The chances of BJP succeeding in the northeast is not high. The saffron party, in the first place, is yet to mobilise substantial support in these parts of the country. The instances of the BJP forming a state government in northeast, even in coalition, are very few and the party is yet to match the deep-rooted Congress and even the indigenous outfits active in one part or the other. Even most of those who oppose the Congress today, were in the latter party at some point of time.
In a Hindu-majority Assam, the BJP's Hindutva mantra did not find much takers. The BJP is yet to cover much distance before it emerges as a strong contender for uniformly representing the people of Assam. Even here, the ethnic problem persists. The fact that the BJP found an ally among the Bengalis in Assam did not impress the native Assamese.
Besides, the Sangh Parivar's instrumental role in deciding the BJP's affairs, as is the case in many states in mainland India, has added to the frustration. For the northeastern people have a strong sense of sub-nationalism and any tendency to exert outside influence in the local politics is bound to fail.
The BJP gained politically in Arunachal Pradesh, the first state in the northeast where the saffron party formed a government, and Nagaland mainly because of fissures within the Congress. States like Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya are Christian-dominated and they are not exactly ideal for saffron politics to flourish. Tripura on the other hand, has been a Left bastion traditionally.
It is not easy for the BJP to make inroads straightaway in the northeastern politics and project an alternative arrangement to the Congress. The party failed to reap any benefits by fielding the iconic Bhupen Hazarika in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections and neither did it succeeded to capitalise on the advice of Kiren Rijiju, the former MP from Arunachal Pradesh and considered the face of the BJP in the northeast.The strong pro-Hindutva stance of banning cow slaughter, too, did not pay off for the BJP in the northeast for social reasons.
Rijiju said the Hindutva ideology left a negative impact in northeast and the BJP leadership never understood the pulse of the northeast. Even in case of Hazarika, who had annoyed the Assamese nationalists by joining the BJP, party leaders admitted that they erred while fielding the great singer during the polls.
The BJP has struggled to manipulate electoral politics in the northeast mainly because the soil there doesn't support its political currency, which worked wonders in UP and Gujarat in the past. The chances of it succeeding in the northeast is all the more less today for Hindutva is in need of a revival even in mainland India.
There is a clear lack of leadership which is able to chart a way for the party's future course of action in the northeast. Shouting in the Parliament and advising ways to an already-crippled government to cure problems in Assam and northeast are not going to help the party. Development could be a handy weapon but then again, the only viable face of the BJP as far as development is concerned, Narendra Modi, is yet to emerge into a consensus leader of the party and the NDA alliance. BJP hardly has any other potential leader to script a turnaround in the northeast.
On the question of stopping illegal immigration from Bangladesh, what the BJP did when it was in power between 1998-2004? The party's election manifesto in 1998 said that it would take strongest measures to find the illegal immigrants and throw them back. But within three years, the Atal Behari Vajpayee government decided that the Indian government would issue work permits to the infiltrators and the party defended the move saying it would facilitate the process of identifying the illegal immigrants. The horribly misleading stand of the government exposed its helplessness against the compelling reality. It even failed to pressurise a much-weaker Bangladesh to act on the immigration issue.
The infiltrators, who were accommodated in the country's political set-up went on to gain substantial political power in Assam. In 2001, Modi, the general secretary of the party then, too confirmed that. According to informal sources, the Vajpayee government could push back just 200 immigrants in five years. The Shiv Sena even slammed the government for encouraging a vote-bank politics similar to the Congress.
If a moderate and consensus leader like Vajpayee failed to address this sensitive issue, is today's BJP, rattled by fragmented leadership and ideological crisis, capable enough to capitalise on the Congress's failure?