As NE gets ready for LS polls, it needs to demand rightful seat in Parliament

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The Election Commission has begun preparations in the North Eastern (NE) states with training of the Election Agents and machineries, as the announcement for the 17th Lok Sabha General Election is expected within few weeks from now. The EC has been holding regular interactions with the Chief Electoral Officers and other concerned officials through video conferencing of the region. There are 25 Lok Sabha seats representing the eight states.

On the other hand, since January 8, 2019, when the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was passed in the Lok Sabha and is pending in the Rajya Sabha, the North Eastern region is spearheading the demand for the scrapping of the Bill while expressing fear that the implementation of the same will threaten the identity of the indigenous communities. Getting into damage control mode, the Union Home Ministry (MHA) on January 22, 2019 said that under the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, nobody would be granted Indian citizenship without the consent of the respective state government.

Such feeling of being alienated is not confined to this particular bill- CAB, where senior leaders from the region, led by Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma, who is heading the 7-member delegation of all NE political parties, are opposing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016. Sangma, also known as Junior Sangma and now being hailed as an ‘iconic NE Hero’, is the youngest son of North East’s tallest leader – Purno Agitok Sangma, who had made numerous attempts to unite the regional political parties from the region, such that the voices are louder in the Parliament. It is time for the political leaders from the region to carry forward his bastion. Also, he frequently said that people from North-east are not “second class citizens” of India, hence they should compete and fight against corruption. He managed to lay the blue print, now it is up to all the political leaders to fulfill his dream.

Now Conrad is standing where Purno was standing- an attempt to unify all the Regional Political Parties in the region, so that their voice is heard in the Parliament. As mentioned, the states from the region have a total of 25 MPs in Lok Sabha out of 545 members with the breakup of Arunachal Pradesh (2 seats), Assam (14 seats), Manipur (2 seats), Meghalaya (2 seats), Mizoram (1 seat), Nagaland (1 seat), Sikkim (1 seat) and Tripura (2 seats).

On the other hand, Assam has a BJP Government led by Sarbananda Sonowal, but the man in action is Assam Finance Minister Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma. He is a former Congress Leader and now a BJP big wig who is said to have been instrumental in forming BJP governments in the region. He took over from Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju, who had contributed over a decade in nurturing the grassroots cadre of the party in the region.

Dr Sarma is also the North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) Convenor, a political coalition that was formed on May 24, 2016 by Bharatiya Janata Party along with Regional Political parties like Naga People’s Front, Sikkim Democratic Front, People’s Party of Arunachal, Asom Gana Parishad and Bodoland People’s Front in Northeast and National People’s Party (NPP), besides other likeminded political party, with an aim to unify all Regional Parties to uproot Congress regime in the region.

Purno had urged the youth to “compete” and pursue “quality education” to “change” India. He had said that most students from the north-east do not pursue “quality education” as they are satisfied with “education” only, everything being “readymade”. Admissions, scholarships, higher studies, jobs are all ensured. So quality education is not required.

He cautioned that the future is going to be different; North East people should learn to compete. The jobs in the reserved areas in the government sector are drastically shrinking, but jobs where there is no reservation (in the private sector) are tremendously growing.

On the other hand, in this hi-tech era where state of the art technology has replaced manpower, most of the developed countries are talking about population control while the North Eastern Region of India is still considered as underdeveloped. According to Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who represents Arunachal West in the Lok Sabha, the prime reason for the lack of development in the northeast is the fewer number of Member of Parliaments (MPs) from the region. However, Purno – former Lok Sabha Speaker – said that corruption has emerged as one of the biggest problems in the northeast as there is an overflow of funds in the region and no one to monitor how it is being used.

It is sad to note that many constituencies are not even aware of the availability of MP schemes. According to most political pundits, this perhaps is one of the biggest draw backs in the system of democracy followed in India and a better understanding of the system of proportionate representation is called for.

The electorates on the other hand have been swayed by the Reservation Policy, which is a populist measure adopted by the Central Government from time to time for building vote bank which only benefits the political party and not governance. Because the actual voices fail to create any effect in the Parliament, while back home they are not at all accountable by way of performance. Hence, paving way for wanton corruption of MP schemes for the region.

It is time for the citizens from the region to rise up to demand respective Fundamental Rights and not be over dependent on Quotas and Reservations. They need to demand a rightful seat in the Parliament for economic and developmental growth to uphold democracy, which comes with an extra baggage such as the rule of the majority while the minority or numerically weaker section is sidelined in all major decision making processes in a region which has been fragmented by linguistic differences.