Neda emerges from  saffron cocoon

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The energetic Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which thrashed the ruling Congress in the last general elections under the banner of National Democratic Alliance (NDA), now floats a northeastern political alliance with an aim to counter the century old party in one of its  strongholds.  The formal launching of North East Democratic Alliance (Neda) is scheduled  for  13 July in Guwahati, which is expected to be graced by the BJP president Amit Shah, the architect of the regional political forum.

In fact, soon after the historic win in Assam Legislative Assembly  polls held in April 2016, the BJP announced formation of Neda for pursuing the development of northeast India. Most of the regional political parties, which are not inclined to the Congress, showed interest in joining the forum, headquartered in Guwahati, to boost the morale of BJP for making Northeast Congress Mukt.

“The primary objective of Neda will be to work out State-specific strategy in respect of like-minded regional parties,” said its convenor Himanta Biswa Sarma, a powerful Assam minister who abandoned the Congress to join the saffron brigade before the Assam polls. But seemingly the inherent agenda would be the BJP’s mission to grab at least 20 out of 25 Lok Sabha seats in the next general elections from the region of eight underdeveloped States.

Till date some important   non-Congress (also non-Left) parties of the region namely Mizo National Front (MNF), Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), Ganashakti, Naga People’s Front (NPF), People’s Party of Arunachal (PPA), United Democratic Party (UDP), National People’s Party (NPP), Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura
(IPFT), Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) etc have joined in  the initiative.

Neda was formed in the virtual capital of northeast India on 24 May, the day Assam’s first BJP chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal took oath in the city, which was graced by BJP chief Amit Shah along with the party’s national general secretary and Northeast in-charge Ram Madhav. Besides Assam CM Sonowal, State minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, Nagaland
chief minister TR Zeliang, Arunachal Pradesh chief minister  Kalikho Pul, former Mizoram chief minister and Mizo National Front president Pu Zoramthanga, Parliamentarian and NPP president Conrad Sangma, legislator and UDP leader Paul Lyngdoh etc were present in the meeting.

Ram Madhav, who is credited for sealing the nationalist party’s alliance with the AGP and the BPF prior to Assam polls, opined that the Neda would ensure greater development as well as mutual cooperation in the region. It has the potentiality to enhance the cooperation among various northeastern political parties and also improve coordination  with the Narendra Modi led Union government in New Delhi.

It may be mentioned that three years back a regional (read non-Congress) political forum  named Northeast Regional Political Front was floated by the NPF and the AGP. Now both the parties have joined Neda signalling the silent death of the forum, which was launched in October 2013. The immediate target of Neda seems to be Congress ruled Manipur,
where the veteran Meitei leader Okram Ibobi Singh is approaching the end of his third term chief minister-ship. Congress strongman Ibobi led his party to win 2012 Assembly elections with 42 legislators (out of 60 seats) for the consecutive third term.

But now more than 25 sitting Congress legislators are expecting to change their loyalty towards the nationalist party, in and around the forthcoming Assembly polls scheduled for early 2017. The poll-bound Mizoram, Meghalaya and Tripura, where State elections are due in 2018, may also pave the way for the saffron party to strengthen their bases in the region.

Optimism is in the air as the Neda has been projected as a platform to resolve conflicts among different States particularly on border issues. Assam has been facing border conflicts with Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya for decades. Similarly Mizoram encounters border issues with Tripura and Manipur with Nagaland. Amidst all, the BJP has shown its shrewdness in collaborating with all these regional political parties of the trouble-torn region and conveyed the message that it is ready to work with the regional parties maintaining their ethnic, linguistic and cultural identities.

The initiative is bound to give fillip to the Hindutva-centric party in both political battlefields as well as in rough socio-cultural pitches of the alienated region.

The author is a Guwahati based journalist and commentator

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