Elections are about promises and new hope. For many in the Northeast, the ensuing Lok Sabha elections embody “U-turns” and “neglect”, so far as the region’s vital issues are concerned.
Sanjib Talukdar, an MPhil student, feels that vital issues, which can plunge the region into turmoil at anytime, have remained the same since 2014.
“The issue of identity is equally, if not more, important than the infrastructure. In the past five years, not a single final agreement has been signed with the militant groups, which have been in ceasefire for years. The NRC is not yet complete, six communities are still awaiting the Scheduled Tribe status in Assam, Chakmas are still awaiting for refugee status in Arunachal Pradesh” said Sanjib, who recently completed his post-graduate studies from Gauhati University.
He feels if Congress used the foreigners issue in Assam to win elections, then the BJP was no different. One particularly sore point is the Centre’s decision to bring in the Citizenship (Amendment) bill.
“Assam Accord of 1985 decided March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date to detect foreigners. But BJP wants to give citizenship to the Hindu migrants till December 2014. Is it not a deceit? Asom Gana Parishad was our only alternative but they also joined hands with BJP. So voting has now become a compulsion for us,” Talukdar said.
The BJP, which is leading the coalition and is part of governments led by regional parties, expects to win 20 of the 24 seats in Northeast. This includes 11 of 14 seats in Assam.
The Congress, on the other hand, is targeting 10 seats in Assam and expects to do well in rest of the states.
Interestingly, the regional National People’s Party (NPP), Mizo National Front (MNF) and IPFT (Tripura) have fielded their own candidates, despite being part of North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), a BJP-floated forum.
This, according to Suhash Chakma, a human rights activist, demonstrates the failure of the NEDA as a political forum. “Floods and erosion is an annual problem and it need the Centre’s help for funds and technology,” Talukdar said.
There is a strong demand for declaring Assam’s floods as a national calamity and take up a comprehensive project to address floods and erosion. The state has lost over four lakh hectares of land due to erosion since 1950.
“The erosion, lack of proper rehabilitation and preventive measures may impact the voting behaviour. So, while the BJP may still get a large chunk of the seats, yet it won’t be a cakewalk,” Bidhayak Das, a writer and commentator on the Northeast, told DH.
The possible fallout of the public over the Citizenship (Amendment) bill has prompted BJP leaders to call this election a fight between “Bangladeshi Muslims and the indigenous Assamese.”
“The fight is not between BJP and Congress, the battle line is drawn between the Bangladeshi-origin Muslims and the Assamese people,” BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma said.
“Since the opposition parties don’t have the strength and courage to face us, the Congress and the AIUDF has reached into an unholy alliance against the BJP,” the party’s in-charge of Northeast, Ram Madhav said here, recently.