A round-up of what’s happening in India’s Northeast.
Manipur: Violence continues, speculation rife that Centre may impose president’s rule; EC announces poll dates
The over two-month-long economic blockade called by the powerful civil society body, the United Naga Council (UNC), against the Manipur government’s decision to carve out new districts from what they call the ancestral land of their community, has continued to spark unrest and violence in the state.
With news of the Narendra Modi government mulling president’s rule in the state having reached Imphal on January 2, chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh rushed to New Delhi with a party delegation the very next day to meet the president and the Election Commission (EC) officials “to apprise” them of the prevailing situation.
The fear of the Congress was triggered by a recent report submitted by the home ministry to the EC that the situation in the state was “grave.”
The party feared that it would lead the EC to postpone the upcoming assembly elections. According to political observers in the state, at present, the party is at an advantage in the valley areas that are inhabited by the majority community, the Meiteis, who are opposed to the UNC blockade. Many Meiteis, joined by another dominant community, the Kukis, look at the Centre (BJP) as increasingly siding with the Nagas.
In the last few weeks, the Centre has sent as many as 7,000 paramilitary personnel to quell the violence and counter violence triggered by the UNC blockade.
With Himanta Biswa Sarma, the convener of the BJP’s North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) present in New Delhi on January 3 – en route to his home state Assam after a holiday in Kenya – along with the chief ministerial delegation and governor Najma Heptulla, speculation was rife that the Centre would impose president’s rule a night before the EC was to declare the dates for the assembly polls in the state. This was even after home minister Rajnath Singh categorically denied it to reporters earlier in the day.
On January 4, the EC went ahead with its plans and declared elections in Manipur in two phases – on March 4 and 8.
Arunachal Pradesh: BJP forms government in the state
Even as all attention was on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech on December 31, his party also reached an important milestone it had set for itself a year ago. The BJP, after having operated from behind since late 2015 – through Congress dissident MLA Kalikho Pul – to topple the Congress government in Arunachal Pradesh, finally managed to grab power in the state.
With chief minister Pema Khandu joining the BJP along with 32 MLAs after defecting from the Peoples’ Party of Arunachal (PPA) – the party he and 43 Congress MLAs joined to topple the Congress government set in place by a Supreme Court order – the new dispensation became the second full-fledged government, after Assam, that is being run by the party in the Northeast. This development also had Khandu make a record of sorts by being the chief minister of three parties within a span of three months.
Such an instance of a chief minister switching with MLAs to the BJP is, however, not new in the state. In 2003, chief minister Gegong Apang along with his MLAs moved to the BJP from the Congress for 42 days only to return back to it.
The latest drama took place on the evening of December 29 with the PPA president Khafa Bengia temporarily suspending Khandu and deputy chief minister Chowna Mein from the party along with five legislators for indulging in “anti-party activities.” A day later, PPA chose Takam Pario as its chief ministerial candidate and also suspended four other MLAs.
Even as the word was around that Khandu would have to undergo a floor test, the first hint of things turning towards the BJP was given by the minister of state for home affairs, Kiren Rijiju, on twitter on December 30.
The mood of the tweet was in continuity with the one he posted on December 22.
On December 31, Khandu along with 32 MLAs moved to the BJP. He told local reporters, “Lotus has finally bloomed in Arunachal. Until and unless there is stability in the government, no development could take place.”
Presently, he has the support of 46 MLAs – including 11 from BJP and two independents – in the assembly.
Although, according to Khandu, “There will be no more dissident politics and we shall now only focus on development,” trouble may arise on January 7 when the Gauhati high court is set to hear a petition filed by the state Congress president Padi Richo against the Congress MLAs who joined the PPA after the Supreme Court judgment.
Interestingly, PPA is an ally of the BJP’s NEDA. With Khandu defecting to the BJP now, it is to be seen whether PPA would remain a part of the alliance in coming days.
Assam: RSS volunteers chanting slogans atop Ahom monument trigger protests
A posse of young trainees of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) climbed atop Kareng Ghar – one of the two well-known monuments of the Ahom kingdom in its erstwhile capital Garhgaon (in present-day Sivasagar) – on December 24 and raised pro-Hindu slogans, according to local media reports.
This is the first instance of communal colour having been given to the 18-century Archeological Survey of India (ASI)-protected royal palace, which is considered a symbol of the state’s syncretic culture set by the Ahoms who ruled it for 600 years.
A few days after photos of the RSS act began appearing on social media, the opposition Congress and student bodies like the Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Satra Parishad (AJYCP) and All Tai Ahom Students Union (ATASU) among others took severe objection to it.
According to media reports, ATASU conducted a “purification” ceremony at the seven-story structure on January 4 to counter the act. Its president Nitual Burhagohain compared the RSS act to the one done at the time of Babri Masjid demolition.
“The act of the RSS volunteers appeared as if they were there to capture the building… it was also a cultural aggression. By doing what they did, they demeaned the people of other faiths. The RSS wants to make India a place only for the Hindus. We suspect that it has a similar agenda in Assam,” Burhagohain told the New Indian Express.
In a statement released by AJYCP, its president Biraj Kumar Talukdar said, “Since the people of Assam are first of all proud of their identity as Assamese, therefore ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’ is quite irreverent in this context.”
“After decades of conspicuous silence and ignorance, why should the RSS take care of the monument after so many decades and who allowed them?” he asked.
Debabrata Saikia, the leader of the opposition in the state assembly, shot off a letter to the culture minister Mahesh Sharma stating, “The Kareng Ghar is one of the very few centrally-protected monuments in Assam and a symbol of Assam’s secular identity. The participants of a RSS training session in the Kareng Ghar premises and chanting slogans from the heritage site amounts to misusing it as defined in the Rules for Protected Monuments of ASI.”
Meanwhile, responding to the news, Ranjib Sarma, an RSS spokesperson in Guwahati, told local media, “The 76 participants of a seven-day primary training camp took part in a cleanliness drive in the Kareng Ghar on December 24, after which they went up the palace with due permission from the authorities. They indeed raised ‘Bharat mata ki jai’ and ‘Hindu-Hindu bhai-bhai’ slogans. But these are not anti-national or communal slogans.”