BJP has long way to go in north-east

BJP has long way to go in north-east

BJP has long way to go in north-east

Arunachal Pradesh is a Christian majority state with 30.3 per cent of the 14 lakh population owing their allegiance to various denominations of Christianity, as per the 2011 Census.

Of all the denominations, the Roman Catholic Church takes the lead with nearly 1, 80,000 followers. Therefore, it was an unfortunate political swansong for a leader like former Congress chief minister Nabam Tuki, a catholic, to term the Raj Bhawan as BJP headquarters. If that was a subtle push which failed to ruffle feathers, then it definitely was a shove when he pushed the envelope in calling Governor J P Rajkhowa an agent of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

These verbal exchanges did not augur well amid a high-tension political drama that saw 47 Congress legislators in a 60-member Assembly holding an entire state to ransom.

In that sense, what Tuki said was a fatal political slur that could have had collateral impact on the socio-cultural fabric of the tribal society. Without an exception, many discerning eyebrows were raised, however, fortunately, not a single soul bit the bait, leave aside the sinker. The state BJP leaders displayed political maturity and refrained from calling the Congress a “Christian party,” which otherwise is often used in the political corridors here ever since the then chief minister Jarbom Gamlin, an indigenous faith believer, tendered his resignation to Congress president Sonia Gandhi paving the way for Tuki’s regime. During that crisis, the Congress had deputed an observer, who was a Christian.

Despite serious attempts to hype the current political crisis as “Saffron vs Church” among certain quarters in New Delhi, the people back home did not give a hoot about such propaganda fully aware that differences within the Congress’ family led to washing the dirty laundry. Finding this as an opportune moment to strike, the BJP pursued the Raj Bhawan route, which acted like a tough cop, going by the rule book.

Legal and constitutional complexities aside, the talking heads in Lutyens Delhi should make an effort to understand the nuances of politics in a close knit tribal society which is not the same as the rest of India.

In Arunachal’s tribal society, an affiliation or membership to a political party is loosely driven by convenience and has absolutely nothing to do with ideology or philosophy. One dare add, affiliation to a particular political party could be a passport but without any guarantee of “success” visa stamped on it. Victory or defeat in an electoral contest here is more of a linear calculation based on binary concept of “clan and matrimonial alliances”. Hence, one will find most of the successful politicians to be either polygamous or from a large clan.

For instance, between 2009 and 2014 during the fifth Legislature, 39 legislators were polygamous. The statistics has not changed much during the current sixth legislature and the general consensus surrounding politicians and political parties in the state clearly validates this binary concept.

By and large, the religious bodies—churches and saffron brigades–have kept away from active politics and confined themselves to imparting education, healthcare and preaching at the grassroot level. Essentially, religion has very little place in tribal style of politics.
Case in point is the 2014 Assembly election when unsure of victory, the Tuki led Congress stifled the democratic rights in 11 constituencies in Christian dominated areas of Western Parliamentary segment.

Superiority of the church

Must one add, those pitting the churches against the saffron brigade in the current turmoil is overlooking the numerical superiority of the churches compared to the RSS. In stark contrast, preachers and pastors of Christianity run to 5-digits, whereas the RSS has a miniscule seven pracharaks to cover the geographical spread of 83,743 sq km with 26 major tribes and more than 100 sub-tribes, speaking as many different languages. 

Strategically, the RSS is not into proselytisation and tactically, it plays the role of friend, philosopher and guide to indigenous population in maintaining and evolving the age-old faith and culture. Unlike in the rest of India, the state BJP doesn’t have a full-time organisation secretary who generally has an RSS background. It is also pertinent to burst the mythical discourse given by few scholars and chroniclers attributing usage of Hindi as an official language to the Hindu missionaries. Factually it is way off the mark. Credit goes to the large presence of defence personnel who have taken Hindi to the interiors. Even today, despite the spread of modern education, one finds natives of border villages speaking more refined and fluent Hindi as compared to the urban settlers.

Politically speaking, at this juncture, the posturing of the state BJP as a lever to enhance prospect of the saffrons beyond a short fishing expedition would be preposterous, yet symbolically, the party could be setting the tone for Assam election and may be laying the foundation for 2019 in Arunachal.

But to prophesise change of fortune in Arunachal to be a good luck charm in the ensuing Assam election could be an exaggerated extrapolation. But it would be fair to draw conjectures on the fortune in at least 21 Assembly constituencies in seven districts of Assam along the boundary of neighbouring states since age-old ties are still maintained, besides matrimonial alliances.

(The writer is the founding editor of Itanagar-based English daily, Eastern Sentinel)

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