The mis-alliances of BJP in the Northeast
How BJP and NPF plan to fight the Assembly elections in Manipur
By Paojel Chaoba
IMPHAL | Dec 12
With multiple issues surfacing into the forefront heating up the atmosphere to the Manipur Assembly elections in 2017, it is interesting to note the various positions held by the NPF and the BJP in Manipur.
An NDA alliance partner and co-founder of the Northeast Democratic Alliance (NEDA), the BJP and the NPF has had an uneasy relation since May 2016 when Himanta Biswas Sarma, Finance Minister of Assam and also the convenor of NEDA declared that BJP and NPF does not have an alliance in Manipur and it is limited to Nagaland only.
This statement by Sarma had irked the NPF leaders so much so that they had a meeting with the visiting BJP Leaders to Nagaland led by the then Union Minister for Law and Justice, D V Sadananda Gowda in Kohima in the month of June, 2016.
It is learnt that the talks were inconclusive and to make matters worse the ADC elections in Manipur revealed the fragile nature of relations between the NPF and the BJP. There was no seat sharing between the NPF and the BJP although there were talks about being pre-poll partners.
This is in line with the nature of alliance between the NPF and BJP in Nagaland. However the upcoming assembly elections in Manipur are going to test the nature of alliance for the NDA and NEDA partners.
Going by recent events, BJP’s roadmap in the Northeast seems to have lost its GPS tracker. While its alliance in Nagaland seems to be nose-diving, the party’s prospects in Manipur’s upcoming state assembly polls may face a blow.
BJP’s major plank of success, since last year’s failure in Bihar, was in Assam. But is that as far east the party will be able to reach? The alliance politics in Nagaland and Manipur may have a key.
Ram Madhav, an important National General Secretary of the BJP who is in charge of J & K and the Northeast is seen as very close to T R Zeliang, the Chief Minister of Nagaland.
Early in 2015, in the tussle between Nephiu Rio, Lok Sabha MP and the present Chief Minister, it is common knowledge to the NPF legislators who went against Zeliang that Ram Madhav was key to the survival of Zeliang’s government.
That Zeliang alone rules the NPF became clear during last year’s crisis point when differences between Zeliang and Rio spilled out onto the assembly floor. Rio’s wobbly position in the NPF has been confirmed when he was suspended for “anti-party activities” in May, this year.
According to Khumukcham Joykishan, MLA of Thangmeiband constituency and BJP Legislator of Manipur, the closeness between Zeliang and Madhav will have no influence or impact on the nature of the relationship between the NPF and the BJP in Manipur.
There is a clear stand on the part of Manipur BJP that there will be no pre-poll alliance between the NPF and the BJP.
The question that political observers want to know, however, is what stops them from having a post-poll alliance in Manipur. The BJP is known to poach prominent leaders of the opposition right before the elections as part of the electoral strategy. Manipur too is witnessing the same pattern and several MLAs of the Congress have joined the BJP, namely Y Irabot, Francis Ngajokpa, N Biren etc.
At Nagaland, the BJP has four legislators, from amongst whom, Mmhonlumo Kikon was a parliamentary secretary in the TR Zeliang-led government. In late October, Zeliang unceremoniously booted him out of office (the legislator reportedly learnt of it through Whatsapp).
No reasons were given and the BJP’s central leadership, it is learned, was not consulted. A terse statement followed from Zeliang’s office that the chief minister did not need to give a reason. Soon after that, BJP’s national general secretary, Ram Madhav, booted out three of its state-level organizational leaders-two Vice Presidents namely James Vizo and Yanghose Sangtam and one General Secretary, Mughato Achumi.
Their fault was speaking out against corruption in the Zeliang-led government in Nagaland. Word may not have reached Narendra Modi or Amit Shah because some of the other national leaders in Delhi are reportedly unhappy.
Corruption and mis-governance are not new issues in Nagaland, as the Comptroller & Auditor General of India’s office has exposed, time and again. The lack of Congress presence in the state, it was believed, would change all of that. The voters of Nagaland would even find themselves attracted to BJP’s ambitious Congress-mukt India plan.
At this stage, the BJP may have had many options. It could have walked out of the coalition or at least saved face by saying that they would only provide outside support to the NPF government.
So, when the three BJP Leaders were removed from their post at the instance of Ram Madhav, the questions, which arose, were of importance to the NPF-BJP alliance in Nagaland. When the Governor of Nagaland has repeatedly raised the issue of corruption in Nagaland and the three BJP office bearers had raised the same issues of corruption and lack of good governance under Zeliang’s government, why were they removed by Ram Madhav.
Is Ram Madhav listening to Zeliang, being close as they are? Sources within the party say that perhaps the stance of anti-corruption and mis-governance raised by the party in Nagaland was affecting the relationship between Ram Madhav and Zeliang.
Recently two senior Ministers of Zeliang’s Government had openly criticized the Nagaland Governor for raising issues of corruption in the media and for ‘converting the Raj Bhavan into the office of the RSS, the BJP and Heraka cult”.
It is a common refrain of the NPF in Nagaland that the NPF is an alliance partner of NDA and not the BJP in the Centre. This is confusing even to the keenest of observers.
A good learning point for the BJP might be what Sarbananda Sonowal pulled off in Assam, which was incidentally BJP’s sole electoral face-saver this year, since last year’s inglorious poll drubbing in Bihar.
Sonowal, along with Himanta Biswas Sarma, formed an alliance with the Bodos, which helped them in several districts. The Bodos extended their support to miscellaneous groups that were disgruntled by the 15-year Congress rule — the Gorkhas, Kalitas, Koch-Rajbongshis and Adivasis for ST status.
Sonowal being pitched as the state’s potential tribal CM helped push the envelope. In New Delhi, sources amongst BJP leaders say that Amit Shah’s direct intervention and direct dealing with state-level leaders in Assam was key to the successful organization. The rest of the Northeast, however, has to work with Ram Madhav. Sarma has turned out to be an important organizer in the Northeast and many BJP supporters feel that he may change the party’s fortunes in these states.
In Manipur, the NPF seemed sanguine with the understanding that it would look for votes amongst the Nagas in the hills while the BJP would bank on Meitei votes in the valley. Recently, Janghemlung Panmei of Tamenglong constituency quit Congress to join the NPF. What Zeliang isn’t factoring in is that there are also Naga leaders in the Manipur BJP who are anxious to contest in the upcoming polls.
As stated earlier it is now clear that the BJP will go it alone in Manipur. While the BJP in Nagaland, through the proximity and camaraderie of Madhav and Zeliang, has allowed itself to play second fiddle to NPF, there are number of indications where BJP and NPF will ultimately tie up in Manipur post-elections.
Although Zeliang has given step-motherly treatment to BJP MLAs and party workers in Nagaland, Ram Madhav has not issued any statement of reaction to the same thus exposing a steady relationship between the two at the cost of the party in Nagaland. And it is these two who will play an important role in the forthcoming Assembly elections in Manipur on behalf of the NPF and the BJP respectively.
Sources within the BJP say that Zeliang is the only Chief Minister in India who can slap BJP in the face and get away with it because of his relation with Ram Madhav. Till date neither the BJP nor the NPF has issued any statement on the creation of seven new districts in Manipur.
Ram Madhav has not made any comments on the impact of the creation of seven districts in Manipur or on the Framework Agreement signed between the Government of India and the NSCN (IM) despite the fact that he is in-charge of Northeast and this is an important issue in Manipur. It remains to be seen whether the BJP will make any new inroads in Manipur given the new surgical strike by Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh.
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