By Sagarneel Sinha
After BJP came to power for the first time in Assam, the saffron party, to strengthen itself and to counter the Congress, formed an alliance in the year 2016 by bringing non-Congress parties together. It was named the NorthEast Democratic Alliance (NEDA) and BJP’s strongman in the region, Himanta Biswa Sarma was announced as the convenor of the alliance. Himanta, who is now Assam’s chief minister, remains the convenor. Presently, constituents of NEDA are in power in all the northeastern states.
In that sense, it can be said that BJP’s NEDA initiative to counter the grand old party in the region has been quite successful. The relations, however, among all constituents haven’t been very comfortable as ambitions of BJP do often clash with the interests of other partners, who are also often divided among themselves. Despite all this, the alliance, with the exits of a few constituents, has been sailing in the region as BJP, which currently is ruling at the centre with a strong majority, is serving as a glue. After all, the northeastern states have to depend more on the centre for financial assistance. Congress was also strong in the region as it was once almost the de facto ruling party at the centre.
Now, Tripura’s royal scion Pradyot Manikya Deb Barman, who also heads the TIPRA Motha, is trying to build a political front in the region by bringing like-minded parties on the board. Recently, Pradyot was in Guwahati to address the workers of Lurinjyoti Gogoi-led Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP). The two parties discussed forming a new platform. The aim is to unite regional parties under one platform to bargain with Delhi. This aim is very reasonable and will be supported by the people of the region too.
Pradyot has been quite successful in the state. He brought many tribal parties in Tripura together under one platform — TIPRA Motha. Small regional parties like the Tipraland State Party (TSP) and Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (Tipraha) or IPFT (Tipraha) merged themselves into Motha. The alliance of Motha and the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura (INPT) won an absolute majority in this year’s tribal body polls by winning 18 out of 28 seats. Later INPT, one of the state’s major tribal parties, too merged with Pradyot’s Motha.
Pradyot’s initial success, no doubt, has been an inspirational one for other northeast-based parties, who are trying to get a foothold in their respective states. However, the unity among the northeastern-based parties for a long time without any national party acting as the glue is itself a major challenge. The reason is the region itself is a divided one and various parties from these states represent different interests.
Take TIPRA Motha’s demand of Greater Tipraland, which seeks to include all Tripuris not only of Tripura but also those who are living in Assam, Mizoram and even some areas of Bangladesh. This demand is quite similar in line with the Greater Nagalim demand, which is opposed in Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. Although AJP has said it supports Greater Tipraland demand but the truth is there will be a strong opposition in Assam if there is any decision to cede areas of the state. In that case, AJP would be in a fix. Border issues between northeastern states have even given birth to violent clashes as seen between Assam and Mizoram. There has been a bitter history of deadly clashes between Assam and Nagaland too. Tripura and Mizoram also have border issues.
Surprisingly, Motha is yet to make its plan transparent regarding Greater Tipraland. Whether the demand is about a separate state as said before or only about socio-economic development of the indigenous communities remains in ambiguity.
Both Pradyot and Luringjyoti are aware of these faultlines. That’s the reason the new political front, which is aiming to counter BJP led NEDA, is primarily focussing on regional issues by identifying a common enemy — the Hindutva BJP. These issues include immediate repeal of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, updating of the National Register of Citizens, protection of Tripura’s indigenous communities through constitutional provisions, etc. Significantly, the demand for updating of NRC in Assam is also supported by BJP, which seems to be sympathetic with a nationwide NRC. Not to forget that TIPRA Motha has been urging for an NRC in Tripura too. Motha and BJP seem to be on the same page as far as NRC in Tripura is concerned.
Even regional parties face issues while coming together to form an anti-BJP coalition. This was seen recently in Assam when AJP and Akhil Gogoi’s Raijor Dal, both two new regional parties guided by Assamese regionalism, severed their months’ old fragile alliance formed before the Assam assembly elections.
Many of the demands raised by northeast-based parties fall under the Centre’s court. As a result of this, many parties of the region tend to maintain friendly relations with the ruling party at the Centre. Importantly, Pradyot himself has said, several times, that he is ready to ally with BJP or any other party, whichever agrees to his Greater Tipraland demand. It now remains to be seen whether a new alliance of northeast-based regional parties will be able to unite, keeping aside their interests, to build a political front against the BJP led NEDA in the region. The sustainability of such an alliance is also a big question. (IPA Service)