When ci­ti­zens can dic­tate their terms to politi­cians

The forth­com­ing elec­tions in the Northeast will shape both the pol­i­tics of the states and the na­tional par­ties

Hindustan Times (Chandigarh) - - HINDUSTANTIMES COMMENT - Prashant Jha

In Delhi’s po­lit­i­cal imag­i­na­tion, the real po­lit­i­cal battle of 2018 be­gins in Kar­nataka. It then ends with the three states of Ra­jasthan, Mad­hya Pradesh and Ch­hat­tis­garh, set­ting the stage for the Lok Sabha polls of 2019. But be­fore that, in Fe­bru­ary, three key North­east­ern states — Na­ga­land, Megha­laya and Tripura — go to polls. And to un­der­es­ti­mate the im­por­tance of th­ese elec­tions for ei­ther the peo­ple of th­ese states or the na­tional polity would be a mis­take.

It is im­por­tant be­cause the thread of elec­toral democ­racy within the con­sti­tu­tional frame­work binds Na­ga­land, home to Asia’s old­est in­sur­gency and with a strong con­cep­tion of its own unique­ness and claims of sovereignty with In­dia. Elec­tions have created and sus­tained a Naga po­lit­i­cal elite which stands at the fore­front of de­fend­ing the In­dian sys­tem and is ready to un­furl the In­dian flag. It may not ad­dress the alien­ation of its peo­ple en­tirely — which is why the peace process with rebel groups is so im­por­tant — but a demo­cratic govern­ment pro­vides a chan­nel to ar­tic­u­late some of their con­cerns. This time around, elec­tions have be­come con­tentious. A sig­nif­i­cant sec­tion of Naga civil so­ci­ety and po­lit­i­cal opin­ion, tired of the long drawn peace talks and seek­ing clo­sure, wants a ‘so­lu­tion be­fore elec­tion’. But the Cen­tre is clear that this can­not be a rea­son to post­pone polls. BJP’S gen­eral sec­re­tary, Ram Mad­hav, has said the state needs ‘elec­tions for so­lu­tion’. As the peace talks en­ter the fi­nal lap, Delhi feels hav­ing an elected le­git­i­mate govern­ment in Ko­hima strength­ens its hands.

It is im­por­tant be­cause it has pro­vided a demo­cratic plat­form to trib­als in a Ben­galidom­i­nated polity like Tripura to ar­tic­u­late their as­pi­ra­tions. This, among other fac­tors, has weak­ened the mil­i­tancy that used to en­gulf the state till a decade and a half ago.

It is im­por­tant be­cause demo­cratic churn­ing and elec­tions have given Megha­laya’s di­verse so­cial groups — across the Khasi, Jain­tia and Garo hills — a plat­form to ar­rive at a power-shar­ing ar­range­ment. This has brought sta­bil­ity, al­low­ing the state to fo­cus on eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties.

But be­sides the sig­nif­i­cance th­ese elec­tions have for the re­spec­tive states, the three polls are also im­por­tant for the three larger par­ties and na­tional pol­i­tics. Take the Left. The CPM, al­ready a pale shadow of its past af­ter losing Ben­gal, is re­duced to be­ing in power in only Ker­ala and Tripura. In Agar­tala, bar­ring a pe­riod of five years from 19881993, it has been in power for 40 years. But to­day it con­fronts an ag­gres­sive BJP ma­chine which has de­ployed its re­sources, and is dis­play­ing its abil­ity to co-opt lead­ers and ally with dis­parate groups. A loss for the Left will mark the end of its hege­mony in Tripura ; it will leave the CPM with no state across North, Cen­tral, West and East In­dia; it will de­prive the party of re­sources to re­cover; and it will gen­er­ate de­spon­dency across its ranks and sym­pa­this­ers.

The Congress is fight­ing to re­tain power in Megha­laya. It has a strong CM in Mukul Sangma. But it is sad­dled with anti-in­cum­bency, fac­tional feuds and con­fronts both a strong BJP and a stronger local chal­lenger in the Na­tional Peo­ple’s Party. Re­tain­ing power will be a morale booster. But losing power and see­ing BJP en­ter govern­ment, in this Chris­tian-dom­i­nated state, will re­duce the Congress to only three states across the coun­try. The Congress will then only have Mi­zo­ram in the en­tire belt from Delhi all the way to In­dia’s east­ern-most bor­ders.

For the BJP, the polls rep­re­sent an­other op­por­tu­nity to shed its tag of be­ing a Hindi heart­land party. It hopes to con­tinue its quest for both a ‘Congress-mukt’ and, in Tripura’s case, a ‘Cpm-mukt’ Bharat. En­try in govern­ment in th­ese states will take the BJP’S na­tional tally to 21 states. A spike in num­bers in Na­ga­land and Megha­laya will al­low the BJP to claim it is not just a Hindu party. But a de­feat or a dis­mal per­for­mance will show to the party that heart­land Hin­dutva will ex­tract its costs in other pock­ets of In­dia. The elec­tions will show if the BJP’S mo­ment of supreme po­lit­i­cal dom­i­nance or as Yo­gen­dra Ya­dav terms it, po­lit­i­cal hege­mony, per­sists or whether cracks are be­gin­ning to ap­pear. Na­ga­land, Tripura, Megha­laya may be small states. But their elec­tions pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity to ci­ti­zens to ne­go­ti­ate with their po­lit­i­cal elites. Their spe­cific ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tions, with spe­cific his­to­ries of po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence, lend them greater sen­si­tiv­ity. The out­come here will shape not only the pol­i­tics of the states but the for­tunes and po­lit­i­cal strengths of In­dia’s na­tional par­ties.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.