Last week saw elections in Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland. In Tripura, the nationalists overturned 25 years of left-wing government. The party of premier Narendra Modi "compromised with the rampant corruption". "The 'Christian' image of the north-east is a myth".
Secunderabad (AsiaNews) - The Hindu nationalist party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the elections in the states of north-eastern India through its ability to bend to compromises: first of all, the abandonment of the values of Hindutva says John Dayal, former National President of the All India Catolic Union, in an analysis sent to AsiaNews. The most surprising result was the overturning of power in Tripura, where the communist parties were ousted after 25 years. Following this victory, a sort of "witch hunt" has spread throughout the country to eradicate political symbols linked to the left, to the point that statues depicting Lenin were torn down by Hindu radicals. Then political violence has also affected other democratic symbols: the Mahatma Gandhi, theorist of "non-violence", and BR Ambedkar, one of the founding fathers of the homeland and a supporter of the rights of the Dalits.
According to Dayal, the key to the success of Narendra Modi's party - which at the central level and in the territories where it is most rooted supports the policies of the most extreme nationalism, such as the ban on beef - is to be found in its chameleon-like attitude. The ability to adapt to local characteristics, the activist claims, has also won the hearts of the Christian electorate, which here, unlike the southern states like Kerala, has never had a strong political representation. But above all, the "Christian" image of the north-east is nothing but a myth:
Members of the Bharatiya Janata Party and their supporters can eat beef, the meat of a cow, in the states of Nagaland and Meghalaya, elections to whose state legislatures were held recently and where the party helped form governments, marking its sweep of the north-eastern abutment of India. “Ban on cow slaughter like the one in Uttar Pradesh won’t take effect in Nagaland if our party comes to power next year. The reality here is very different and our central leaders are aware of that,” Nagaland BJP chief Visasolie Lhoungu told Hindustan Times.
Elsewhere in the country, members of the BJP have been arrested together with others of the larger Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh family for lynching Muslims and Dalits on the suspicion that the hapless victims had either butchered a cow, bought its meat, or on the mere suspicion they may have eaten beef. That marks the difference between the BJP which claims overwhelming victory in the north east of India and the BJP that has ruled India since May 2014 on a platform of development, employment and a pure form of Hindutva in which the cow is holy and the building of a temple to Ram in the town of Ayodhya the paramount priority.
In the gloating and the jubilation in party headquarters in New Delhi and the RSS headquarters in Nagpur, what has been underplayed, and in fact hidden from public gaze, is the sort of compromises the party has had to make to come to power, by itself or in alliances, in states such as Goa, first, Jammu and Kashmir, second, and now in the north east to be able to lay claim to a pan-Indian sweep. It remains to eb seen if it means the BJP will, like the Congress before it, will in future seek to be all things to all people without anyone issue being entirely unchangeable.
Giving up core values of Hindutva has been one policy change, so to say. Overlooking and compromising with the rampant corruption in these states, is the second. The third has been that the winning candidates are not dyed in the wool RSS or BJP cadres but persons, mostly men, weaned away from the Congress en masse or from regional parties. This was visible in Goa, and is now so very apparent in Tripura where the massive victory of the BJP with 42 sears in a house of 60, throwing away a 20 year Marxist rule, has sent shock waves through the political spectrum and the media. But this is not like throwing away the Marxists from Kerala. The winning candidates came mostly from the Congress.
But amassing the north east is not a game of numbers, important though they may seem. It is a question of perceptions. The north East, barring the massive started of Assam, contributes a little less than one per cent to the polity of India in terms of seats in Parliament or the state legislatures. Delhi with 7 Lok Sabha seats as a Union territory is bigger than six of the seven north eastern states in its parliamentary presence.
The North East provides little of the nation’s gross domestic product with its mineral resources difficult to extract and its forests covering perhaps some of the most inhospitable and difficult terrain in the continent.
Its main impact on the rest of the nation has been in terms of the security environment. Adjoining China, Burma and Bangladesh, and connected to the Indian mainland with a narrow strip of land called Chicken’s neck, it is the vulnerable part of India, and has the second largest military presence after the state of Jammu and Kashmir which has a energy-sapping bloody militancy and Pakistan inspired terrorism.
The North East has, in turn, been host to the most complex, multiplexed 70 year old insurgency that has only now started to abate. In effect, it has needed tremendous national resources to keep it happy and calm. In turn, the state governments and the legislators have found it lucrative to play cozy with the central government which is the solitary font of funding. Massive corruption ensures a personal stake for each legislator.
The North East’s “Christian” image is also a myth. In the sprawling and populous Assam, the Christian population is less than 2 per cent, less than the national average, and it is not politically important in Tripura. It is a minor force in Arunachal in recent years, and among the Naga tribes of Manipur, but these Nagas have never ruled Imphal and remain a sulking force. It is therefore in Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram that Christians constitute a majority, though in absolute terms, the total does not contribute much to the religion’s figures in the national population. The Christians are also bitterly divided on fractures of tribal identity and denominational differences with Catholic-Baptist spats more the norm than the exception.
Nevertheless, the Christians as a group had for fify years been branded by the BJP as an anti-national group set to create a Kingdom of Christ in the Hindu homeland. They were accused of fomenting terrorism, smuggling arms, and providing passage to international terrorists and weapons. Establishing a BJP “nationalistic” political presence was therefore almost as important as a military project. This has been achieved and only Mizoram now remains outside the BJP’s capture – till the end of the year when elections are due.
And staying with optics, for the first time in history, the map of India looks saffron from east to West, even if the from North to south, the color stops at the doorsteps of the five southern states of Telangana, Andhra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry and Kerala.
As far as trying to find out why Christians, battered by the RSS in Orissa and Chhattisgarh, would want to vote for the RSS baked BJP in Goa and the North east, it does not reflect very well on people with ambition. The late Mr. Purno Sangma, a former Speaker of the Lok Sabha who wanted to be Prime Minister or President of India, was asked why he was playing footsie with the BJP-Sangh about whose violent anti minority past he knew so well. He said he would change the party from the inside, a statement that Mr. HT Sangliana repeated when he in turn joined the BJP after a distinguished career in the police. Both failed to change the BJP, but both gained in personal ambitions coming true. Mr. Sangma’s son Conrad is today the chief minister of Meghalaya, and Mr. Sangliana served in the Lok Sabha and as vice chair of the National Minorities Commission long after his peers in the police had gone to grass.
Winners all, so to say.
*Former National President of the All India Catholic Union