By Barun Das Gupta
If the proverbial leopard cannot change its spots, can the BJP change its politics of domination? Just before last month’s assembly elections in Nagaland, the BJP took a calculated risk by breaking its ties with the Naga People’s Front (NPF) with which it was running a coalition government for years. It not only parted company with its old ally, but split the NPF by weaning away the party’s president and three-term chief minister Neiphiu Rio.
The BJP then helped Rio float a new party – the Nagaland Democratic Progressive Party – and entered into an alliance with it. The two parties fought the elections jointly. The BJP got 12 seats and the NDPP 18, adding up to 30. The BJP then roped in the lone JD(U) MLA and an independent, raising the total to 32, a wafer thin majority in a House of 60. The NPF, fighting alone, gave a good account of itself, winning 27 seats. Rio was sworn in as chief minister for the fourth time.
The new combine that took power called itself the People’s Democratic Alliance (PDA). Till now, it was all hunky dory. But soon trouble started over the distribution of portfolios. The BJP is demanding all the important departments, disproportionate to its legislative strength. The NDPP is unhappy that despite its being the senior partner, it has got just four cabinet rank ministers, but with less MLAs, the BJP has taken six.
According to political observers, the national party is so keen on increasing its strength that it is on the prowl for inducing defections from both the NDPP and the NPF. The distrust of the BJP is so much that to ‘protect’ their legislators from being poached by the BJP, both parties have herded their MLAs in two separate camps. The credit for this is being given to the BJP’s “backroom boys”.
The Sangai Express of Imphal has editorially commented that the BJP has mastered the art of striking alliances. It observed: “A handwritten script of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP president Amit Shah, their man in the North East Ram Madhav and yes, the unsung unseen backroom boys. Obviously clear that now political campaigning is something much more than the art of public speaking or reaching out with populist measures and rhetoric but meticulous behind the screen plannings. This is what the backroom boys of the BJP have done and with such aplomb.”
But seducing people from other parties also has a concomitant risk. The likely new entrants will demand their pound of flesh and ask for cabinet berths. But they can be accommodated only by disappointing young aspirants in the BJP’s own ranks. It is being bruited about in Kohima that an NPF heavyweight may be offered the post of deputy chief minister. This is learnt to have caused heart-burning among the BJP’s own MLAs. BJP’s ‘backroom boys’ may not be able to assuage the hurt feelings. It is likely that the office of the Speaker will go to the BJP.
The BJP is also using its leverage of power to bring the NPF in line with its objectives. A central investigating agency has reportedly summoned the former chief minister T. R. Zeliang to New Delhi to seek from him information about extortion of money from State government employees to fund the Khaplang faction of the NSCN, which does not abide by the ceasefire agreement between the Centre and the outfit’s Isak-Muivah faction. It is the NSCN(K) that killed 24 army men in June, 2015 in a daring raid. In a major retaliation subsequently, the army destroyed its camps along the Indo-Myanmar border. Collecting money for the NSCN(K) is, therefore, a serious offence.
The BJP may be able to tame its own discontented MLAs but it cannot take the NDPP for granted. Hence the urge for searching new pastures like the NPF. Those familiar with politics in the North-East know that commitment to political ideology has never been an important factor. The venality of the people’s representatives cutting across party lines is well known.
The BJP has a host of contradictions to resolve in Nagaland. Its Hindutva appeal will not work here. Before the elections, the BJP’s estranged former ally, the NPF, had threatened to withdraw support to the BJP Government in Manipur after the elections. It has kept mum after the poll results were announced. But if necessary, the NPF can also put pressure on the BJP by playing the Manipur card.
The Congress has been marginalised in the North-East. It is only in Mizoram that the Congress has been able to hold on to its last bastion. Nobody knows what the BJP’s ‘backroom boys’ are also doing in Mizoram. The Congress was the symbol of unity and stability in the North-East for a long time. Whether the BJP, with its own brand of politics, can become a unifying factor remains to be seen. (IPA Service)