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Despite SC Arunachal setback, BJP pushes ahead with grand Northeast plan

Sadiq Naqvi | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:49 IST

After its massive victory in the Assam Assembly elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party is now eying the entire Northeast. And in a major step to bolster its presence in the region, the party held the first political conclave of its North East Democratic Alliance, an umbrella of as many as 10 political outfits from the region, in Guwahati.

But the massive conclave was overshadowed by the Supreme Court verdict on Arunachal Pradesh, which went in favour of the Congress and reinstated Nabam Tuki, the Chief Minister who was ousted by Governor JP Rajkhowa.

"There was sadness in the hall after the news of the verdict came in," a senior BJP leader from Assam told Catch.

But the BJP's plans go beyond Arunachal Pradesh.

"We'll realise dream of PM @narendramodi ji of 25 MPs from NE & built a vibrant,Congress-Mukt, Vikas-Yukt #NorthEast," tweeted Himanta Biswa Sarma, a Cabinet minister in Assam and convenor of NEDA.

Who is in the alliance?

The formation of NEDA was announced the day Sarbananda Sonowal took oath at the Chief Minister of Assam. "The Northeast has suffered and lagged because of misrule. NEDA will take the region to new heights of prosperity," said BJP president Amit Shah, who was present at the conclave with other ministers of the Union Cabinet, including Kiren Rijiju, Jitendra Singh and Rajen Guhain.

Others in attendance included Nagaland CM TR Zeliang, Arunachal Pradesh's Kalikho Pul, who was ousted by the Supreme Court verdict, and Sikkim CM Pawan Kumar Chamling. Former Meghalaya CM Dr Donkupar Roy and former Mizoram CM Zoramthanga also spoke at the event.

The alliance includes outfits like the Mizo National Front, the Naga People's Front, the Bodoland People's Front and the Asom Gana Parishad, among others.

"There is a belief in the organisation that the Congress is able to hold on to the Northeast because all the anti-Congress parties do not contest as a united front. This alliance will help us," the senior leader from Assam explained. "Twenty-five Lok Sabha seats is a sizeable chunk, and the party is strategising how to make it a reality in the next elections."

Focus on Manipur

Another key functionary of NEDA told Catch: "The immediate political objective is the forthcoming election in Manipur."

He said that the BJP had been able to bolster its presence in the state, and was now in a position to contest the elections on its own.

The senior BJP leader agreed: "The active participation of the Nagaland Chief Minister, and the fact that the Central government is actively pursuing talks with the Nagas has resulted in the BJP getting support from the Naga population in Manipur. We have been able to put our foot in the door, and have two MLAs at the moment. Even if we do not win, our vote share will certainly go up."

The presence of Sarma as the convenor of this alliance will help keep it together. "In the last 14 years, since he has been a major part of the state government, he has a good personal rapport with a lot of Congress leaders as well," the BJP leader said.

"He has been involved directly in all the elections in the Northeast. He has been the key strategist in Manipur, Meghalaya etc," the functionary added.

Lessons from Arunachal

The senior leader said while the party may have hurried matters in Arunachal Pradesh, resulting in an adverse order from the Supreme Court, the tactic to break the Congress will work in favour of the party in the Northeast in the longer run.

"Take the example of Meghalaya. The BJP has very little presence there. If you create an anti-Congress front, it will help the party, like it did in Assam, where the party banked on a lot of turncoats from the Congress and is now in power," he explained.

Development plans

Apart from the political plans, the BJP has ambitious plans for the development of Northeast. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has, on many occasions, outlined how the region continues to lag, despite its massive potential.

After coming to power at the Centre, the BJP had formed a separate ministry for the development of the Northeast region.

Alliance members believe NEDA will act as the voice of the Northeast in the larger NDA.

"A member of the NEDA, selected on a rotational basis from each party, will attend the meetings of the NDA, along with Himanta Biswa Sarma," the functionary said, adding that this will help in forcefully putting forth the demands from the region, instead of smaller parties coming up with individual demands.

The new alliance will also try to strengthen investors' confidence in the region. "There is a big investment summit on the cards soon," the functionary said.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 13 July 2016, 9:00 IST