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Lok Sabha elections 2019: Identity poses N-E alliance challenge to BJP

The alliance that the BJP had carefully stitched together starting in 2016, with the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) — a coalition of indigenous parties, including many in power in the northeastern states now — threatened to come apart on account of the contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill, which the ruling party sought to push.

lok sabha elections Updated: Mar 14, 2019 09:18 IST
Hindustan Times, Guwahati
N-E alliance,BJP,Lok Sabha elections 2019
Widespread protests were held in the northeast against Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which promises Indian citizenship to non-Muslim minorities from neighbouring countries.(PTI File Photo)

The northeast has been an area of focus for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s ideological parent, and the party itself. As early as January 2018, BJP president Amit Shah said in an interview with Hindustan Times that the northeast was one region where the BJP hoped to achieve significant gains in the Lok Sabha elections. Of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in the region, the party currently holds eight.

However, the alliance that the BJP had carefully stitched together starting in 2016, with the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) — a coalition of indigenous parties, including many in power in the northeastern states now — threatened to come apart on account of the contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill, which the ruling party sought to push.

The bill, which promises Indian citizenship to non-Muslim minorities from neighbouring countries including Bangladesh and Pakistan, was passed in the Lok Sabha on January 8, despite widespread protests in the northeast against it.

Citizen groups, students’ unions and indigenous political parties — even BJP chief ministers and the Congress state units — claimed that it was detrimental to the interest of indigenous populations of the states.

Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), one of the coalition partners of the BJP in Assam, exited the alliance, with three ministers quitting a day before the bill was passed in the Lok Sabha.

Meghalaya CM and NPP chief Conrad Sangma too, threatened to call it quits with the BJP due to the citizenship bill row.

The NPP is in a coalition with the BJP.

However, on Wednesday morning, BJP general secretary Ram Madhav took to social media platform Facebook to announce that its alliance with the six northeastern political parties was on.

“The BJP, NPP, NDPP, AGP and BPF (Bodoland People’s Front) will fight together in Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh with the mission of defeating Congress party at the hustings,” Madhav wrote in a post, adding that the alliance will win “not less than 22 of the 25 seats in the region”.

Madhav met the chief ministers of BJP-led governments, including Sarbananda Sonowal (Assam), N Biren Singh (Manipur) and Pema Khandu (Arunachal Pradesh), and the heads of coalition governments Neiphiu Rio (Nagaland) and Sangma.

Madhav also met AGP leaders and brought them back on board.

However, AGP leader and former Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta said, “I am against this alliance with the BJP and I am firm on my stand.”

AGP leaders Lachit Bardoloi and Hemen Borah tendered their resignations after the alliance was announced.

In Sikkim, the BJP will ally with the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha, the main opposition party. Madhav also met coalition partner Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (the two rule the state in partnership), which intends to fight the Lok Sabha elections alone.

“By joining hands with the BJP again, AGP leaders have put the last nail in the party’s coffin. They have exposed themselves as power-hungry and betrayed their grass root workers. It will make the BJP irrelevant soon,” said senior Congress leader from Assam Pradyut Bordoloi.

(With inputs from Utpal Parashar, Sadiq Naqvi and David Laitphlang)

First Published: Mar 14, 2019 08:10 IST