With three years still to go for the next general elections, the BJP is already drawing up a blueprint to expand its footprints in the Northeast. The BJP is seeking to unite non-Congress parties under the banner of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) with development as the buzzword.
Former Congressman who jumped ship ahead of the Assam assembly elections to join the BJP, and is now Assam’s Finance Minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma is the pointsman for NEDA.
The setback of the Supreme Court order on Arunachal Pradesh coincided with the NEDA’s launch in Guwahati on Wednesday, but it is unlikely to stop the BJP’s quest to expand its base in Northeast, even if it means riding piggyback on regional players.
The Northeast with its eight states, remains largely underdeveloped and is plagued with migration and security concerns, and the BJP wants to capitalise on these issues by pushing its ‘development agenda’.
On Wednesday, BJP chief Amit Shah formally launched the NEDA, a conglomeration of 11 political parties to counter the Congress. Three chief ministers TR Zeliang (Nagaland), PK Chamling (Sikkim) and Kalikho Pul (Arunachal Pradesh) attended the meet. Leaders from 10 regional parties including the Asom Gana Parishad, Bodoland Peoples Front, Sikkim Democratic Front, Mizo National Front were also present.
These parties, BJP leaders say, add muscles to NDA and would be helpful for party’s 2019 plans. Of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in the Northeast, Assam has the largest number with 14, Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh have two each while Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim have one seat each.
In the 2014 general elections, the BJP won 8 and its allies, the Nagaland Peoples Front and the Sikkim Democratic Front one each. And despite a Modi wave across the country, the Northeast contributed 8 seats to Congress’ total kitty of 44 Lok Sabha seats. The CPM won two and rest went to regional parties.
“Congress will be wiped out from northeast in the next Lok Sabha election,” Sarma told HT. The Assam Finance Minister who is also the NEDA convener, has been tasked with the job of hunting for new parties, roping in influential leaders and expand the alliance ahead of next general election. Sarma is known for his political manoeuvring skills and doing a hatchet job on the opposition in tatters.
The NEDA’s Guwahati declaration says the time has come “for all of us” to join hands together and fight for “a common goal and destiny” in the region by forming a common platform. NEDA will coordinate development works among all the NDA constituents and allies of the region. Its allies will increase political cooperation in respective states and develop a collective spirit at the regional level by means of dialogue and negotiation, says the declaration.
BJP leaders plan to launch an all out offensive on the Congress on the issue of development, blaming it for the backwardness of the region. The NEDA declaration also said “a fragmented, disjointed and divided northeast India is beneficial to the Congress” hegemony in the centre and in the region. Nearly 65 per cent of the population living in this region is ‘young’ and the BJP is targeting to win them over with the promise of development.
BJP sources say Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also keen at ‘winning hearts’ in the Northeast region that is home to 250 social groups and more than 185 dialects. He wants one union minister to visit north east every fortnight to push development activities.
Between January last year and April 2016, the Northeast saw 110 ministerial visits, 54 of them to Assam alone. Central ministers also visited Arunachal Pradesh (13 visits), and Meghalaya and Nagaland with 10 each are the next most visited.