With CAB as election agenda, can all 25 MPs unite NE?

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NE Region's political parties conventinon on CAB at Guwahati on Jan 29, 2019. File Photo.

All the eight states in the North Eastern (NE) region are all geared up to vote on the first Phase of the seven-phase polls starting from  April 11 to May 19, 2019 to constitute the 17th Lok Sabha. The region has 25 seats, yet it is always felt that the aspiration and voices here failed miserably to be heard in the House of 545, due to the inter-state conflicts, disagreement in political ideologies and worst of all cultural disharmony.

The upcoming 2019 election is expected to gel the NE region as one by opposing the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), 2016, which was passed in the Lok Sabha on January 8, 2019 but failed to be passed in the Rajya Sabha. But the manifesto released by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) promises to bring back the CAB.

Another issue affecting the vote bank is the Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi’s allegation that the Congress wants to take away the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal on April 4, 2019 said the party is not in favour of repealing the AFSPA but it will amend the Act to ensure that no illegal tortures and crime against women are committed.

Badal, who is a member of the Congress’ manifesto committee, was interacting with reporters in Guwahati while releasing the party’s manifesto, understanding well it will surely affect the vote bank from the region.

The States going to poll in Phase 1- April 11 (Seats in bracket) are: Andhra (25), Arunachal Pradesh (2), Assam (5), Bihar (4), Chhattisgarh (1), J&K (2), Maharashtra (7), Manipur (1), Meghalaya (2), Mizoram (1), Nagaland (1), Odisha (4), Sikkim (1), Telangana (17), Tripura (1), UP (8), Uttarakhand (5), West Bengal (2), Andaman (1), Lakshadweep (1); Total 91.

North Eastern Region has a total of 25 MPs in Lok Sabha out of 545 members with Arunachal Pradesh having 2 seats, Assam having 14 seats, Manipur – 2 seats, Meghalaya – 2 seats, Mizoram – 1 seat, Nagaland -1 seat, Sikkim – 1 seat and Tripura having 2 seats. For decades, there have been attempts to unify the region, so that their voices could be heard in the Parliament, but it has been difficult to have a common agenda to project the region as inter-state disputes become the bottleneck to have one voice from the region.

The political pundits pointed out that the CAB will only be an advantage to the BJP, knowing well that the NEDA alliance, who are mostly anti-Congress, will still need the patronage of the Central party, especially the one Ruling. The fact that despite initial quibbles and bravado, the coalition partners of NDA from the region remain together even after January 8, is evident of the need to rely on Centre’s patronage.

Under similar game-plan, NPP wanted to contest in all the 25 seats in the region but had to concede to its regional coalition partners. In the home state of NPP’s National President – Conrad Kongkal Sangma, the ruling Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) had to back the United Democratic Party (UDP) candidate as Common candidate for the Shillong seat while it fielded its candidate from Tura. Also, BJP, despite being in the NPP-led MDA coalition, has fielded its candidates in both Shillong and Tura.

Such multi-corner contest for both the seats in Meghalaya have put the MDA in general, and NPP in particular, into an acid test for its survival. The NPP needs to gain more seats from the region in order to bargain with the New Government at the Centre on important issues to come up in future affecting the region.

With such multi-corner contest, and the campaigning to end on April 9, that is 48 hours before April 11 polls, yet it is difficult to spot the common ground which can gel the political parties from the region to speak in one voice. But of course, the electorates can surely cast their vote and make the change.