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Will BJP reap benefits of development in North-eastern states in Assembly elections next year?

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The spectacular victory of the BJP in the last Manipur Legislative Assembly elections of 2022 reflected a clear and decisive mandate by voters in the state for development and political stability. With the passage of time, the BJP has emerged afresh in setting well-calculated agendas and establishing contacts with new voters. The party has, by now, indelibly imprinted itself onto the political space of the North-East. This is going to have a significant impact on the forthcoming Assembly elections in Meghalaya, Nagaland, and Tripura early next year.

Will BJP reap benefits of development in North-eastern states in Assembly elections next year?

In Tripura, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) has emerged as a formidable force. The Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA Motha), which is the ruling party in Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC), had already announced that it would contest in 35 seats in the 2023 Assembly elections, unless the Centre agrees, in writing, to its demand for a separate state of 'Greater Tipraland' for the indigenous people of Tripura. The TTAADC constitutes two-thirds of the state's territory which is home to several vanavasi communities, who constitute almost one-third of Tripura's four million population.

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Although the TIPRA Motha's demand for a 'Greater Tipraland' has remained vague among a cross-section of the people, the slogan is largely attractive for the minority vanavasi communities residing in Tripura. This demand was raised a few years back after the ruling BJP's ally-the Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT)-received massive support from the indigenous communities. Ahead of the 2018 Assembly elections in Tripura, the IPFT vociferously demanded for a separate state of 'Tipraland' for the tribals of Tripura, upgrading the existing TTAADC.

In fact, 'Greater Tipraland' is an extension of the IPFT's demand for 'Tipraland', a separate state for tribals by carving out the TTAADC area. It may be mentioned here that the politically important TTAADC exercises jurisdiction on over two-thirds of Tripura's 10,491 sq km area and is home to over 12,16,000 people, of which around 84 per cent are tribal. Focusing on the issue of 'Tipraland' in the 2018 Assembly polls, the IPFT was able to secure 8 of the 20 tribal reserved seats, which had been the strongholds of the CPI (M) over the past several decades.

Defeating both the BJP and the CPI (M), the TIPRA Motha scripted history by sweeping the TTAADC elections held in April 2021, winning 18 of the 28 seats over the 'Greater Tipraland' demand. The TTAADC is considered to be the mini-legislative Assembly of Tripura. Undoubtedly, the TIPRA Motha has emerged as a serious contender for power in the politics of Tripura. TIPRA leaders are of the opinion that under the concept of 'Greater Tipraland', they seek to improve the socio-economic conditions of the backward tribal population living in the North-East, and as well as neighbouring Bangladesh, Myanmar, and a few adjoining areas.

Hence, the proposed 'Greater Tipraland' demand of the TIPRA Motha would include the tribal majority areas of not only Tripura, but also that of Assam, Mizoram, and as well as the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. Although the BJP, CPI (M), and the Congress are strongly opposed to the IPFT's 'Tipraland' demand on the ground that it is 'separatist and divisive', no political party has officially said anything against the demand for a 'Greater Tipraland' yet, apprehending the loss of tribal support in the next year's elections.

However, it may be mentioned here that after the BJP-IPFT alliance came to power in Tripura, many development initiatives have been undertaken by the government. News reports had been circulating a few weeks back that there is a possibility of the IPFT merging or allying with the TIPRA Motha before the 2023 Assembly elections. Both the parties want the Centre to discuss their demands but have not received any response so far. In the 60-member Tripura Legislative Assembly, the demand for a separate state may influence the results in 20 seats where the tribal population holds a considerable sway.

Coming to Nagaland, the United Democratic Alliance (UDA), comprising of the BJP, Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP), the Naga People's Front (NPF), and an Independent, is running what several news outlets have referred to as an 'Opposition-less Government' in the state. Few days back, the NDPP and the BJP had issued a joint statement in which the leadership of the two parties had mutually agreed to continue the alliance with seat sharing of 40:20 in the forthcoming Nagaland Legislative Assembly elections, wherein the NDPP will contest in 40 seats and the BJP in 20 seats.

Shrinkage of the AFSPA-promulgated areas in Nagaland by the Government of India on March 31, 2022 is definitely going to have an impact on the overall poll outcomes. However, rushing to any conclusion that internal security threats in the North-East have reduced significantly, will be erroneous. Artificially-manufactured fault lines of tribe and ethnicity still remain exposed due to the never-ending armed ethnic insurgency in many areas of the region. The resumption of peace talks between the Central Government and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isaak-Muivah)/I-M was gripped in an air of uncertainty following the Oting incident in Nagaland in December 2021, with the NSCN (I-M) ruling out any further possibility of peace talks under the shadow of the AFSPA.

In Meghalaya, implementation of the Inner Line Permit (ILP) has become one of the major demands in the run-up to the Assembly polls early next year. It was on December 19, 2019 that the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly unanimously passed a resolution urging the Centre to implement ILP in the state. The State Government of Meghalaya had also submitted a memorandum on the matter to Union Home Minister Amit Shah during his visit to Shillong on January 23 last year. Interestingly, it is the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) that has been expanding its base in Meghalaya as a major Opposition Party. It was on March 26, 2020 that the TMC formed a 15-member block committee at Pynursla in the East Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya.

The Congress Party's downhill slide continues in Meghalaya because of continuous defections. Political commentators and analysts have observed that on the one hand, the regional political parties, which are now ruling Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Sikkim, are consolidating their positions at the cost of the Congress. On the other hand, the grand old party's political base is shrinking due to a weak organizational structure and leadership crisis. The rise of the BJP in the North-East has proceeded simultaneously with the near-to-complete decimation of the Congress Party.

However, retaining political power depends upon several factors, and especially in a region like the North-East where numerous groups and communities of people have a history of being mired in unending conflicts led by several militant insurgent outfits. Peace and stability in neighbouring Myanmar is also vital for ensuring long-term peace and development in the region. Only then can the potential of trans-border connectivity projects be tapped optimally. Myanmar ensuring that insurgent outfits of the North-East are not allowed to take shelter in its soil is very important to help bring the rebel groups to the negotiating table.

(Ankita Dutta is a researcher from Assam. She has done M.Phil. and Ph.D. from JNU, New Delhi. Her area of specialisation is the culture and history of North-East India, with focus on recent socio-political developments in the region.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of OneIndia and OneIndia does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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