NE Dispatch: BJP, CPI(M) Lead in By-Polls; India, Bangladesh Discuss Disputed Enclave

A roundup of this week’s news from the northeast.

CPI-M candidate Jhumu Sarkar celebrates his victory in Agartala, Tripura on Tuesday. Credit: PTI

CPI-M candidate Jhumu Sarkar celebrates his victory in Agartala, Tripura on Tuesday. Credit: PTI

Assam, Arunachal, Tripura: Advantage BJP and CPI (M)

The November 19 by-elections – held for one parliamentary and four assembly seats in three states in the northeast – saw the BJP and CPI (M) at an advantage over other parties.

While the CPI (M) grabbed two assembly seats in Tripura, the BJP picked up one assembly seat each in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, besides pocketing the lone parliamentary seat in Lakhimpur, Assam.

The BJP retained the Lakhimpur parliamentary seat by an impressive margin of 1,90,219 votes, thus replacing present chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal with Pradan Baruah. It also won the Baithanlangso assembly seat in the Karbi Anglong district of the state and the Hayuliang seat in Arunachal Pradesh.

Interestingly, though the Lakhimpur election is a clear win for the BJP, its victory in the assembly seats may not be quite as clear cut. Mansingh Rongpi – BJP’s candidate for the Assam assembly seat – used to be a Congress strong hand from Baithanlangso, who won the May assembly polls held there on a Congress ticket. It was Rongpi’s resignation from the party that led to the by-polls. On November 19, Rongpi defeated Congress candidate Rupansingh Ronghang by 16,600 votes – a mandate that some poll experts in the state considered more a reflection of the candidate’s popularity than the BJP’s.

With Rongpi’s win, the BJP’s strength in the Assam assembly has gone up to 61.

However, with Baruah’s win from the parliamentary seat, the BJP’s numbers will again slide to 60 as he was elected from the Dhemaji constituency in the last assembly elections. Baruah will now have to give up that seat, thus necessitating yet another by-poll in the state.

Similarly, in Arunachal Pradesh, Kalikho Pul’s wife Dasanglu Pul’s opponents are looking at her win over independent candidate Yompri Kri by 942 votes as “a sheer manipulation” by the BJP, done in cahoots with its ally, the Pema Khandu government.

Although the Congress named Lupalum Kri as its candidate, the returning officer rejected Kri’s candidature as the state administration withheld his voluntary retirement application “so that he couldn’t contest the elections”. Hayuliang has traditionally been a strong Congress bastion but no Congress candidate could fight the elections this time. In the end, Congress supported Yompri Kri who contested as an independent candidate after her husband Lupalum’s application was rejected. Kalikho won the last assembly polls from the constituency as a Congress candidate.

With Dasanglu’s win, the strength of the BJP in the Arunachal assembly has gone up to 13.

In Tripura, CPI (M) performed impressively by snatching the Barjala constituency from Congress. Its candidate Jhumu Sarkar defeated Shristimohan Das of the BJP by a margin of 3,374 votes. In the other seat – Khowai, CPI (M) retained it by defeating the candidate from the Trinamool Congress (TMC).

The by-poll results in Tripura are a setback to both the BJP and the TMC as both these parties have been trying to make inroads into the Left’s bastion for some time now.

Tripura: India-Bangladesh meeting over disputed enclave proves inconclusive

Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar. Credit: PTI

Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar. Credit: PTI

Last year, India and Bangladesh took a historic step towards sorting out their long-pending boundary dispute by exchanging as many as 152 enclaves between them. However, Muhurichar, situated in southern Tripura covering an area of about 63 acres, is the sole enclave whose fate remains undecided, primarily because of a dispute springing from the riverine border.

On November 20, officials from India and Bangladesh met in Dhaka to resolve the issue, but without any conclusive results. While the seven-member Indian delegation was headed by Sripriya Ranganathan, joint secretary (border management) at the Ministry of External Affairs, a 12-member team from Bangladesh was led by Abu Hena Mohammad Rahamatul Muneem, additional secretary (political) at the home ministry.

Last year, the India-Bangladesh Joint Boundary Working Group met in Dhaka over Muhurichar and decided to conduct a joint survey of the enclave to resolve the issue, as per which the recent meeting took place. Prior to the November 20 Dhaka meet, officials from both sides visited Muhurichar on November 17 and held a discussion after it at Majumder Haat in Bangladesh, situated across Belonia, a sub-divisional town in southern Tripura. A day before it, Ranganathan reportedly also met the state’s chief minister Manik Sarkar to discuss the issue.

A senior official from the state revenue department who was part of the talks, told IANS that officials from the two countries “would now submit reports to their respective governments to decide [on a] future course of action.” He said,”Indian officials told their Bangladeshi counterparts that according to the Indira-Mujib accord, the boundary should be the mid-course of the Muhuri River. The Bangladesh officials objected to this logic, saying the course of the river has changed many times during the past 44 years.”

Since partition, the Muhuri river has been considered the boundary between India and Bangladesh on the southern Tripura side. Signed in 1972, the Indira-Mujib agreement between the prime ministers of the two countries mentioned it as well. The 110 enclaves that India gave to Bangladesh – and the 51 it received in exchange – as part of the Land Boundary Agreement of 1974 and its 2011 protocol, also included Chandannagar enclave in southern Tripura.

An Agartala-based reporter told The Wire that the area was also used for farming and as a cremation ground by many people on the Indian side much before partition, which has complicated the issue further. He quoted sources from the state government as saying that the Indian government doesn’t have any objection to slicing out some, but not all,  of the enclave to Bangladesh.

While the India-Bangladesh border has been relatively peaceful, there has been a series of low intensity firing between the two sides over Muhurichar since 1978.

Assam: Indo-Myanmar-Thailand friendship motor rally

India-Myanmar-Thailand motor rally. Credit: Twitter

India-Myanmar-Thailand motor rally. Credit: Twitter

The trend of government-supported car rallies that traverse ground from northeast India to Southeast Asia to promote the centre’s Look East (or Act East) policy is continuing.

Initiated in 2004 by the high profile ASEAN car rally, flagged off by then prime minister Manmohan Singh from Guwahati, with the aim of  promoting trade, investment and tourism between India and Southeast Asia, the trend saw a new addition on November 13.

Named the India-Myanmar-Thailand Motor Rally, a cavalcade of 21 vehicles comprising 80 participants from all the three countries was put together by the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and Kalinga Motor Sports Club (KMSC), Bhubaneshwar, with support from the ministries of road transport and highways, Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER), petroleum and natural gas and the external affairs.

Six days after the state minister for road transport and highways Mansukh Lal Mandaviya flagged off the rally from New Delhi’s India Gate, it was sent off further from Guwahati on to its final destination, Bangkok, by Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal. The rally, passing through Meghalaya, Nagaland and Manipur, will enter Myanmar and run on the trilateral highway to reach Thailand.

Speaking at the flagging-off function on November 19, Sonowal reiterated that the car rally “is part of the government’s Act East policy which is going to bring a huge transformation to the entire northeastern region.” He said gestures like car rallies would “serve as a facilitator in improving the relationship with neighbouring countries and break barriers of national borders in bringing the people of the Southeast Asian countries closer.”

“The geographical disadvantage of the state and the region would be turned into an advantage as the trilateral highway would facilitate massive economic activities with the neighbouring countries and focus would be shifted from mainland to the northeastern part of the country in view of opening this gateway to South East Asia,” Sonowal said. As per the organisers, “The rally seeks to sensitise people about the future possibility of travelling from India to Thailand through Myanmar by an all-weather road.”

In May this year, yet another India-Myanmar-Thailand friendship car rally was flagged off from Itanagar by then Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Kalikho. Organised by the North East Federation on International Trade along with theUnion of Myanmar Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industries and the Federation of Thai Industries, Bangkok, its aim was also to promote goodwill, tourism and trade to commemorate the occasion of 25 years of Indo-ASEAN friendship.

In 2012, yet another car rally, organised by the ministry of external affairs with the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) to commemorate 20 years of Indo-ASEAN friendship, concluded in Assam. The rally reversed the 2004 journey by beginning in Indonesia to end in Guwahati.