North-Eastern India: parliamentary elections
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In the run-up to the election, there was growing resentment against BJP across the northeast for its stand on the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 (CAB) that sought to grant citizenship to persecuted non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It faced several protests in Assam, its ally Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) walked out of NDA, and beef controversies and charges of Hindutva politics further clouded its poll prospects.
But the saffron party has come out with flying colours by improving upon its 2014 tally. Of the total 25 seats in eight northeastern states, Assam has 14, of which BJP won two and was leading in seven at the time of writing the report. While it was leading in one of the two seats in Manipur, it was leading in two seats each in Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh. Moreover, NDA allies National People’s Party and Mizo National Front won in Meghalaya’s Tura and the lone LS seat in Mizoram, respectively. Its ally Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party was leading in Nagaland’s lone LS seat too.
“The mandate has proved people voted for BJP’s ideology and PM Narendra Modi’s leadership. CAB espoused the humanitarian needs of those who shared the values of Indian civilisation. That people voted for us despite the opposition to it proves it is a mandate for those values,” said North East Democratic Alliance convener Himanta Biswa Sarma.
Congress and other opposition parties had tried to tap into resentment against the citizenship bill, and BJP allies NPP and MNF had threatened to quit the NDA if the bill was passed. The bill, which was not placed in Rajya Sabha in January amid protests by civil society groups, ultimately lapsed. In March, AGP was back in the NDA fold.
Significantly, seven of the nine seats BJP was leading in at the time of writing the report are in Brahmaputra Valley where opposition to the bill was strident; the other two are in Barak Valley.
Its promise of safeguarding the identities of indigenous people by updating the National Register of Citizens, implementing Clause 6 of the Assam Accord and granting ST status to six ethnic communities seems to have got traction among the electorate in Brahmaputra Valley. In Barak Valley, where support for the bill was strong, the party has staged a comeback in Silchar and minority-dominated Karimganj (SC) seats.
In April, PM Modi, at a rally in Silchar, had said BJP was committed to passing the citizenship bill. With the party getting a clear mandate, it is expected to bring it back after consultations.