03/15/2018, 16.00
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BJP anti-minority policies in north-eastern India

by Ram Puniyani*

Last week the nationalist party won big in state elections. The anti-Bangladeshi feelings and the illusory promise of development were decisive in Tripura. Through its flexibility, the prime minister’s party has been able to use manipulation to gain power.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – In the last couple of decades, one has come across pamphlets, leaflets and other material with propaganda claiming that Christian missionaries are converting people at a rapid pace. The examples given have mostly been from north-eastern states.

This propaganda has been extensively used at a pan-Indian level, particularly before elections in most of the states. This propaganda has formed the basis for hate against Christians as we witnessed with the ghastly murder of Pastor Graham Stewart Stains, the horrific violence in Kandhamal, and low intensity anti-Christian violence and attacks on churches in different parts of the country.

So how could the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the party flaunting the Ram Temple, the Mother Cow and Hindu nationalism make inroads in states where Christianity, as a religion, has a good presence, where eating beef is part of people’s dietary habits, and where different tribes with diverse and clashing political interests articulate their aspirations by forming various groups that have asked for separate statehood for their tribes.

While the situation in each state is different, there is a pattern to the BJP’s strategy, which – in a flexible manner, supplemented by massive resources, and a near perfect electoral machinery and the backing of its parent organisation’s swayamsevaks (volunteers) – is getting the cake state after state.

In Assam it focused mainly on Bangladeshi immigrants, on Muslims swamping the state and threatening to turn Hindus into a minority. The BJP was clever enough to strike alliances even with separatist organisations. Most of the regional organisations in the area look at Congress as the party that has not focused on development work, and the BJP, while at one level calls those who differ from its ideology as ‘antinational’, has no compunction in allying itself with people talking about separate statehood or even secession.

In Tripura, a left-wing government, despite its clean record, has failed to fulfil the aspirations of tribal people and Other Backward Classes (OBC) in matters of reservation. It has also failed miserably in creating employment opportunities for young people, which gave the BJP grounds to promise and create the illusion of development.

The BJP here harped mainly on two major factors. One is the promise of development. By now, its claims of development all over the country stand exposed as mere vote catching slogans, but in the north-east they can still sell Modi as a development man. But Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar’s failure to implement the new pay commissions must have hurt many people as they are still stuck at the fourth pay commission whilst talk of seventh pay commission is in the air.

In Tripura, the BJP could also harp on ‘Hindus are refugees, Muslim as infiltrators’ to influence the Bengali Hindu vote. In tribal area, RSS swayamsevaks worked for a long time and consistently to organise religious functions, open schools, etc. and have succeeded in turning the tables, as Manik Sarkar’s government failed to address the needs of tribal people in matters of opportunities.

On the issue of beef, the BJP has openly taken a hypocritical line, arguing that their ban on cow slaughter and eating beef, which is being imposed in other parts of country, would not be enforced in the north-east. As one of the issues raised by the RSS-BJP, the sacred cow is a political tool to divide society so that when the crunch comes they can manipulate it as they have done in Kerala and Goa.

In a very brash way, towering over Christian voters, Mr Modi talked about rescuing 46 nurses held by ISIS in Iraq and Father Alex Premkumar in Taliban captivity. What can one say about these issues? Were they rescued because they were Indians or because they belong to a particular religion? As is typical to Modi’s type of politics, the BJP takes advantage of such incidents in a crass political manner. Even though according to their ideology Christians and Muslims are foreigners, at the same time they manipulate these identities for electoral gains. In Tripura most Congress and Tripura Trinamool Congress (TMC) MLAS switched to the BJP with electoral support shifting to the party. What worked for the BJP here was the anti-Bangladeshi sentiment along with the illusory promise of development.

In Meghalaya, the situation is different. Though Congress did emerge as the single largest party and logically should be given the chance to form the government, the Hindu nationalist governor invited the second largest party, in alliance with practically everybody, including BJP, to form the government. Here the BJP’s failure to win over the electorate is writ large as the results show. What is putting them in power is the alliance with a regional party, which does not have friendly attitudes and relations with Congress. The role of BJP’s all-round clout, including its money and muscle, is the undercurrent of the story.

There is lot to learn for the left in Tripura. Addressing the problems of youth, tribal people and OBCs is paramount. In addition, the issue of BJP manipulation by all possible means in order to come to power is something that, if ignored, will lead to serious decline in the electoral appeal of the left and other parties.

What is labelled as Karat’s line (named after Communist leader Brinda Karat), of not allying with Congress, will surely decimate the left in times to come, probably sooner than later, as it underestimates the BJP-RSS’s potential and their deeper agenda. It ignores the threat of the powerful electoral machine built by BJP over time and its capacity to manipulate issues, like beef and conversion by Christian missionaries, in different parts of the country, allowing it to take two opposite positions and getting away with it!

The emotional politics unleashed by the BJP-RSS can be seen in the attack against Lenin’s statue and on CPM workers. What is in store for the future of the region if democratic forces don’t rise to the occasion is anybody’s guess!

* president of the Centre for Study and Secularism di Mumbai

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