Is NEDA Crumbling? Are The Fissures Clearly Visible?
Have cracks started to appear among partners in North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA)? Going by the tenor of some of the smaller regional partners in NEDA - an alliance of non-Congress parties - it can be clearly inferred that all is not well on this front.
The recently concluded 4th convocation of the NEDA gave everyone ample hints that there is some serious differences cropping up between the bigger partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the smaller parties such as National People’s Party (NPP) led by Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma, Mizo National Front (MNF) led by Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga and the Neiphu Rio-led National Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) in Nagaland.
The biggest bone of contention for the fissure is the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 (CAB for short), as the tribal dominated states like Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram are opposing the bill tooth and nail for the fear that implementation of the bill will open the floodgates for illegal migrants into these states which will, in all likelihood, change their demography thereby making them lose their distinctive characteristics and identities. BJP, on other hand, is committed to bring in the bill and make a law out of it more so after the publication of National Register of Citizens (NRC) which has left out several Hindu Bengalis who are traditional voters of the saffron brigade.
Speaking at the NEDA conclave, Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma said that the northeast had fears regarding the Citizenship Amendment Bill and urged union home minister, Amit Shah, to take all the states of the region into confidence before re-introducing the legislation. Sangma questioned if the Centre will bypass discussions with the states before reintroducing the bill.
“What will happen after CAB? Will people continuously come from Bangladesh? Will there be any deadline or a continuous flow? We, in the northeast, have such fears,” said Sangma.
According to highly placed sources in Meghalaya, Conrad Sangma, who led the front in stalling the CAB last time in the Rajya Sabha will, from now onwards, do some tough talking with the bigger partner BJP, in order to save his own political bastion on home turf and gain maximum political barter possibility if in case the saffron brigade pushes ahead with the contentious bill in the coming parliamentary session.
In all probability, BJP will do so since it finds itself on a sticky wicket after the publication of NRC to save its own vote bank in the northeastern region. However, stiff opposition from regional parties like NPP, MNF and NDPP is the main stumbling block and to negate it the government may offer political sops for a win-win proposition.
Notably, NPP leader Conrad Sangma, at the NEDA convention, made it quite evident that he is game for some hard bargaining.
According to reports, BJP, which is known for grabbing power in smaller states by pulling MLAs into its fold, has already begun the process in Meghalaya. As many as 10 MLAs from different parties including Congress in the pine state are in touch with top BJP functionaries to switch sides. This very fact has put Sangma in a spot of bother and his aggressive stance at the NEDA meet in front of BJP President Amit Shah is manifestation of a fissure in the alliance.
Sangma mentioned some strong reservations in regard to the BJP leadership’s politics in the region as he appealed that the NPP members across the board should receive respect, whether they are affiliated with NEDA or not.
“There are different regional parties with BJP. In your first speech you said that every partner in NEDA will get equal respect. I respect all partners. I urge you in every state there should be a positive environment and every partner should get respect. There is an environment that if you need you use NEDA otherwise you leave it …. this should not happen. The brotherhood which we have started should remain in every state.” Sangma said this in his fiery speech in the NEDA convocation at Guwahati.
The words of Sangma above clearly amplify the fact that he is not happy with the present functioning of the bigger partner BJP in the NEDA.
But it will be politically naïve to assume that NEDA partners will part ways soon. However, if the signals emanating from the smaller regional parties in the alliance are anything to go by it appears that the small brothers need respect from the big brother and BJP’s one-upmanship in the regional politics is becoming a cause of worry for parties like NPP, MNF and NDPP.
Interestingly, Sangma’s father, PA Sangma, was also the architect of a non-congress alliance in the region in 2003 named North East Peoples’ Forum but it could not last due to internal differences among regional partners.
Sangma has inherited his father’s political legacy and is very well aware of the intricacies of remaining a relevant partner in alliance. But for him there is double edged sword hanging. At one point he has to tackle the growing clout of BJP in his own state and on the other hand dilution of his tough stance on CAB could possibly mean a political suicide for his party.
For now he is putting up a brave front and it remains to be seen how long he can withstand the pressure of a bigger political player or be able to find a middle ground to carve out political niche for his political party.