By Ashis Biswas
With old ethnic tensions being revived during the current pre –Assembly polls campaign in Tripura and Meghalaya, there is every likelihood of a more polarized vote in the Northeast. And the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is largely responsible for this.
As anticipated, the major controversy triggered by the ‘secret’ Assam police Special Branch note to District SPs, seeking details of activities conducted by Church authorities , focusing in particular on issues like conversions and asset acquisition, shows no signs of ending. Clearly, Assam Chief Minister Mr Himanta Biswa Sarma’s brief announcement dismissing the highly sensitive communication as unofficial and disowning responsibility, has not been accepted at face value.
If anything, the situation has turned more embarrassing for all concerned authorities, whether at the state or central levels. This happened after Trinamool Congress(TMC) spokesman- cum- activist , the redoubtable Mr Saket Gokhale took an escalatory step. He sent a complaint to the Embassy of Holy See of the Vatican in India, according to Northeast mainstream media, complaining of the deliberate sidelining of Christians in India during the BJP’s tenure. Party insiders said he had pressed for an immediate intervention from appropriate international authorities to help India’s targeted minority Christian community .
TMC circles, defending the move said they had little choice as Mr Sarma’s explanation did not seem to be convincing. Now the matter would at least be handled at the level of the Ministry of Home Affairs in Delhi.
From the ruling BJP, whether in Assam or Delhi, there was no explanation as to how such a communication, dealing with issues of extreme sensitivity, involving diverse ethnic groups of people living in a habitually volatile region, came to be leaked in the media before the elections ! ‘Whatever the ultimate official justification for such a lapse, these instances of top-level inefficiency hardly enhance the prestige of our elaborate national security establishment,’ said a Kolkata-based TMC leader. Worse, they increased the distrust between communities, instead of contributing to greater social harmony.
In Tripura, the BJP has rejected the idea of joining any pre-poll alliance with Tipra Motha, the new entrant currently making waves in the electoral scene. In Meghalaya, the BJP began with two seats in the 60 member house in 2018, but over the years, its strength rose to 6, with defections from other parties adding to its strength. It was a junior partner in the National Peoples’ Party-led Meghalaya Democratic Alliance Ministry (MDA).
Northeast media reports suggest the party will contest around 25 seats on its own and hopes to do much better this time. There were some dissidents within the party not satisfied with the performance of Mr Ernest Mawrie as the state party President, himself a contestant this time. But of late local misunderstandings had been mostly sorted out, according to party sources.
The emergence of Tipra Motha, the indigenous tribal- led organisation headed by the young popular Pradyot Manikya, has turned into a challenge for other contending parties in Meghalaya, no matter how major. The success of the Tipra Motha in the prestigious state autonomous tribal District Council polls, upstaging older tribal formations functioning within the ruling NDA Ministry in Tripura impressed many. Most young educated tribals have responded to the TM’s appeal: it stands for a greater Tipraland, seeking more educational/economic opportunities for indigenous tribespeople .
Mr Manikya’s grouse is that even 70 years after independence, the tribespeople have remained poor and backward .This must change urgently. The Motha is not targeting any community or group in the region and is committed to strictly observing democratic norms in carrying out its socio-political movements Such a commitment puts it at a different level from other similar parties in the region, according to observers.
When it comes to countering the TM’s demands and its criticism of the present, more established parties in Tripura, the BJP has proved more vocal than others. It has accused the TM of corruption, levelling the most damaging charge against a political party : the saffron party alleges that the TM received generous funds from the centre and state Governments to run the District Councils it had won a year ago, for carrying out local development work .
Yet, the party failed to submit detailed statements of the expenditures the Council incurred, which did not speak well of its financial transparency. The TM on the other hand, charged the state Government of virtually starving it of funds, to create unnecessary problems for the Council.
What remains unclear how the TM’s eventual vision of a greater tribal-dominated state within (or will it need territory from adjoining states as well ?) Tripura can be achieved. No roadmap has been announced yet.
The issue, which might have been discussed at the highest level, was publicly not made clear even during the recent visit of a TM deputation to Delhi. A large team of about 1500 tribal leaders and workers led by Mr Manikya visited the national capital to highlight their campaign.
So far there has been no official response from the central BJP leadership to the Motha campaign or its long term demand for a bigger separate state. Observers suggest that the present autonomous tribal district enjoys the widest possible administrative powers permissible under the law, as things stand. While the demand for separate statehood from an autonomous position is no more than natural progression for most political organisations, Tripura remains a very small state with limited resources in the Northeast, hardly having the kind of space needed to accommodate a separate state.
In any case can such a move be considered seriously in the face of objections almost sure to arise from the existing non-tribal population in the state, accounting for over 70% of the aggregate mix? As of now there have been no clear answer to the obvious question lurking in most minds. Given the turbulent history of the long and often bloody encounters involving tribals and non -tribals in Tripura, dealing with new complex political demands will call for deft statesmanship in the days ahead, if political stability and a stable ethnic relationship is to be maintained in the Northeast. (IPA Service)