Prime Minister Narendra Modi scored with his development mantra during his three-day visit to the northeast that ended Monday. But he avoided touchy issues while leaving the BJP in Assam red-faced with his push for a land swap deal with Bangladesh.
In what was billed as a thanksgiving trip to a region with a history of armed secessionism, Modi focussed on improving connectivity with a Rs 28,000 package for laying new railway lines and helping the region script tourism success.
But there appeared to be a disconnect regarding decades old issues such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the Naga peace process. He did provide a solution to the problem of Bangladeshi migrants, but the UPA route – redrawing the India-Bangladesh border – he chose to take did not go down well with many in Assam.
Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and West Bengal stand to lose 10,000 acres of land to Bangladesh if the Parliament ratifies the land swap agreement signed in 2011. The deal envisages exchanging enclaves or pieces of land of one country within another’s territory.
“We will not let the land swap deal to happen,” Samujjal Bhattacharyya, advisor of All Assam Students’ Union, said. The union had led an anti-foreigners agitation from 1979-1985 that made India take notice of the influx issue.
“The BJP is like a seasonal bird that changes colour before and after elections,” Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi said, reminding how BJP’s state unit had used to land swap deal to target the UPA ahead of the Lok Sabha polls earlier this year.
The BJP has gone on the defensive. “Let us not jump the gun. What Modi said was he would go ahead with the policies of the earlier regime only after weighing the interest of the people of Assam,” state unit president Siddhartha Bhattacharyya said.
While Gogoi pointed out Modi avoided the issue of flood and erosion, the Asom Gana Parishad asked why he remained silent about updating the National Register of Citizens, deemed crucial for checking illegal influx.
Manipur, on the other hand, expected Modi to go soft on AFSPA that allegedly gives soldiers the license to kill in conflict zones. In Nagaland too, his speech had no reference to the ongoing peace talks with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) group.
Nagaland chief minister TR Zeliang was learnt to have briefed Modi about the need to give final shape to the off-and-on peace process. Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh could have pre-empted Modi from giving any assurance by saying the previous day, “We will not sacrifice even one inch of Manipur’s land.”
NSCN(I-M) says a permanent solution to the peace process is not possible without the integration of all Naga-inhabited areas in the northeast. Large swathes of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh are included in these areas.
Modi’s visit, though, ended on a positive note with Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar inviting him for an interaction with his ministers on good governance. Sarkar, who leads India’s only surviving communist regime, finds merit in Modi’s development and cleanliness mantras.