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Published in the 16-30 Apr 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

SPECIAL REPORT
BJP’s electoral prospects in the North-East
By Shakil Ahmed

Imphal: The stage for the 14th parliamentary election is well-set for major political parties in the region. With Assam govt banning the VHP international general secretary Praveen Togadia from entering the state till elections, former Marxist-Humanist "everything-is-changing" Bhupen Hazarika joining the BJP, and Muslim organizations such as Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) working to consolidate the platform of the secular parties, the tone is set for the coming election. Nusrat Ali, all-India secretary of JIH says, "our main objective is to prevent split of anti-BJP votes". Togadia is known for his provocative statements. Provocation leads to polarisation of society and that serves the BJP. In his earlier yatra to the state Mr Togadia was reported to have said that “secularism should be thrown into the Brahamaputra”.

Assam is likely to witness a triangular fight between Congress(I), BJP, and Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) with Muslim votes likely to be split between Congress and AGP which is fighting on a slogan of "discrimination by Congress and BJP". But the large chunk of Muslims, cutting across ethnic divide, are poised to go for Congress, not because Congress is really concerned about their welfare but to halt any possible success of the BJP which is widely seen as a fascist force out to destroy the country.

It is no surprise that the BJP always looks for divisive issues. In Assam the issue of foreigners’ infiltration is a convenient one to pit one group against another. Despite All Assam Students' Union (AASU) insistence that foreigners should be identified irrespective of their religion, BJP and its larger family insist on the identification of Muslim "foreigners” only, claiming that “Hindu foreigners” shoud be considered as "refugees". The motive is clearly to divide the people of Assam on religious lines. This is the strength of BJP. But contrary to what BJP had been saying all these years regarding foreigners issue, when in power it failed to do anything about the issue. The NDA govt introduced the repeal bill of IM(DT) in the Lok Sabha only on the last day of the last budget session on March 9, 2003. 

The 14th parliamentary election is going to be a defining election in the history of the country. With many disturbing events like Gujarat massacres under the BJP, the coming election, slated for 20-26 April in the region, is also seen as a sort of referendum on the policies and ideology of BJP and its infamous "band of brothers" - the Sangh Parivar. The process of making a social base started long back by the RSS with the creation of a social category called “Hindutvised Hindus” (as oppposed to genuine Hindus). This has now reached the point of saturation, with no hope of further electoral yield. This has led the cultural nationalists to indulge in what is now obvious to all and sundry, its calculated ambiguity about issues. In the midst of weak and unprincipled allies, the BJP pretends to "adjust' itself, seemingly showing a change of tag, if not heart. But, on the other hand, the party, true to its color, produces a “Vision Document” solemnly blessed by the RSS, which shows that the party has not moved away in any substantial way from its well-known agenda which includes building of a Mandir on the spot where Babri mosque stood till Dec 6th 1992.

The image of BJP "wooing" Muslims is an illusion. That is, it is a manufactured maaya, sought to be instilled in the minds of the people, to serve its own interests of advertising a myth - a la "India Shining" - as truth that BJP really cares for the Muslims too. It has more to do with the effort of splitting Muslim votes and, more importantly, to show to the millions of moderate Hindus outside the Hindutvised zone that there is nothing wrong in putting BJP in power. It will never compromise on that because the base of the party, the RSS, has its vision of India as Hindu Rashtra, nothing less, and building the proposed Mandir is a way to that vision. That the politics of division of Indian people by striking at the very root of national unity is what it has mastered over the years - from Babri to Gujarat.

It is therefore no surprise that the party always looks for divisive issues. In Assam the issue of foreigners’ infiltration is a convenient one to pit one group against another. Despite All Assam Students' Union (AASU) insistence that foreigners should be identified irrespective of their religion, BJP and its larger family insist on the identification of Muslim "foreigners” only, claiming that “Hindu foreigners” shoud be considered as "refugees". The motive is clearly to divide the people of Assam on religious lines. This is the strength of BJP. But contrary to what BJP had been saying all these years regarding foreigners issue, when in power it failed to do anything about the issue. The NDA govt introduced the repeal bill of IM(DT) in the Lok Sabha only on the last day of the last budget session on March 9, 2003. And then it was referred to a parliamentary committee which now stands dissolved with the dissolution of Lok Sabha. Pranab Mukherjee who had headed the parliamentary standing committee examining the repeal bill said that he had "worked very hard and sought the views of several persons .There was a lot difference of opinion". Today this is an election issue of BJP and AGP.

Apart from the controversial IM(DT), what makes BJP think will make them win some seats is the tribal voters who constitute about 13 percent of the total population of the state. Over the years the RSS through its various organizations, such as Bharatiya Janajati Samskritic Manch (Indian Tribal Cultural Forum), have been working in the region to create a consciousness among the tribes that they are "Hindus". Indian state for several decades has identified non-tribal section of the Meitei population (those who follow their traditional religion outside Vaisnavism) of Manipur as "Hindus." This helps the RSS effort of absorption and homogenization. Creating a "way of life" (Hindutva, as they claim) is intrinsically related to the attempt at absorbing tribals into RSS' definition of "Hinduism" and anything in the country which falls outside the realm of Islam and Christianity is in the danger of being identified as "Hindu". Once this "Hindu consciousness" is created they are sought to become Hindutvised Hindus - nothing less is accepted. The BJP now thinks that the votebank thus created will give them victory. The Assam Tea Tribe Students Association (ATTSA) has extended support to the party this time.

In Manipur, there are two seats - outer and inner. In the former the BJP is counting on the goodwill it enjoys among the Nagas on account of the peace process between the government and NSCN(IM). But in the inner Lok Sabha seat the party is uncertain. Its candidate is facing a death threat by an underground outfit. And pro-Naga image of the party does not augur well for the party in the inner seat where Meitei and Muslim populations are concentrated. Sources close to BJP president of the state told The Milli Gazette that the party, oddly enough, is eying for a significant Muslim vote. Accordingly, some Muslims have been roped in to do the saffron bidding and to show Muslim "involvement" in the party. Muslims know the game. However, Muslims may not go en bloc for a particular party in the state. Muslim votes may be divided between CPI and INC.

India is at the crossroad and next few weeks will decide the future of this great country.
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