Elections in North East India
By Ananya S Guha
The Tripura, Nagaland and, to an extent, the Meghalaya elections show how the North East India has joined the mainstream of the country without much ado. The supposed ‘nationalist’ forces have started working in the North East. Analysts have said that for the North East during elections it is always a pull towards the center. Only time will spell out the long term implications of such gravitation. The people want development, claim the victors. Tripura’s erstwhile Marxist supporters have ditched them. Manik Sarkar’s penury does not impress anyone now, least of all his detractors. One of them said laconically that his administration was corrupt.
Now let us look at the facts. In Manipur and Meghalaya, the Congress is the single largest party. In Arunachal after the Supreme Court verdict, there was a mass transference of power to the ruling party, that is exit and enter. This led even to the suicide of a former CM.
In Meghalaya, the BJP is a ‘facilitator’ with just two seats and without any improvement on its earlier show. In Nagaland, of course, two regional parties usurped the votes with the BJP pitching in with twelve single party seats, a sure resurgence of pan Indian Nationalism.
In Tripura, the BJP clearly divided the non-tribals and tribals on the basis of factional politics, encouraging a regional tribal party which wants separate statehood. This brought to nothing the efforts of the Leftists towards tribal non-tribal reconciliation, and wiping out extremist forces in the state.
T.R.Zeilang, the Chief Minister of Nagaland, isn’t yet willing to relinquish office claiming that his party is willing to join the BJP. And what about the much talked about Naga accord?
So what do we have? An uneasy Meghalaya and Nagaland, with a rift on the cards in Tripura. Winning elections is one thing, ruling a state is another. Mainstreaming politics and professing Hindutva are polarities. Long live elections. It is true that all political parties will put in all their resources to win elections, call it horse trading or whatever. The fact is that the ruling party is rather good at managing elections rather than direct victory, as in the case of North East. Further the much flaunted expression – ‘anti-incumbency’ – played havoc both in Meghalaya and Tripura, although it is not easy to understand the overnight switchover in Tripura. This implies that ideological bases are not a solid foundation for winning elections, as West Bengal also proved earlier. However, in the North East and especially in states such as Meghalaya, there are other factors such as personality cult. This becomes for the voter larger than party dogma or ideology.
The elections in the three states have paved the way for a new nationalist mainstreaming, which may or may not be to BJP’s likening of ideology. But by constantly focusing on indigenous culture and values, the party has perhaps won over hearts, sidelining even the issue of eating beef. Even the elusive Nagaland solution was ignored. The ruling party in rhetoric at least said that they had always emphasized on the separateness of North East India, insinuating identity politics. To that extent, it certainly had a pragmatic understanding, something which the opponents failed to construe or interpret in action. Now it is to be seen what development will be done, and how tribal/non-tribal relationships work out in Tripura. This is a very sensitive issue with the demand for a separate state looming large, given the historical fact that the indigenous tribes have been decimated demographically by non-tribals after independence and the 1971 Bangladesh War. This is something which the states in North East India always point towards: Assam is still a burning issue and Meghalaya nurses similar fears. In the process, the ‘local’ and ‘outsider’ dialectic evolves. In reality it becomes a social and political battle, with politicians acting as match referees.
What however does not augur well for the political future is setting up governments at any cost, although the introduction of terms like ‘facilitator’ have brought in a new idiom of political pragmatism. But hypothetically speaking, if there is a change in the center in the next Parliament elections, will the situation be more fluid? Will ‘horse trading’ come back full circle? Connectivity and employment have been harped on by the powers that be. What conclusive and logical steps are taken to ensure improved road connectivity has to be watched. The electorate even in North East India is a watchful one. And the youth being around two thirds of the population of the country is making a difference in electoral politics. They are technologically oriented and have an eye for news, which they share on networking sites.
So, yes, long live elections, but with the purpose to swing moods with the mainstreaming drive recognizing community cultures. Divide and rule as one foresees in Tripura may have a backlash. The money culture in electoral politics and its criminality will be another subject matter of discussion. In the given Indian situation and present day politics, whether one likes it or not, the BJP as a national political party is a better manager of electoral politics.
Ananya S Guha is Regional Director, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), Shillong.
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