The BJP’s withdrawal from the uneasy coalition in Jammu & Kashmir has been debated the whole day on the screen of national TV channels. Pundits have raised the issue of its impact on other BJP led or supported coalitions elsewhere in the country, especially Bihar and Punjab. None of them talked about the BJP led coalitions in the northeastern states as if all was normal between the Saffrons and their allies here. That is far from true.
The BJP confronts a very serious challenge from its allies in Assam and Tripura. The regional parties in these two states are no throwaways and they differ on very basic issues with the BJP.
The AGP which ruled the state for two terms in the last part of the past century does not subscribe to the BJP’s politics of Hindu consolidation which lies behind its decision to come up with the amendment Bill to the Citizenship act.
It is keen to uphold the Assam accord which its leaders signed in 1985 as representative of the student-youth movement against illegal migrants. On that score, the AGP position is akin to the Congress whose government signed the Assam accord with the leaders of the agitation. It is against using religion as the yardstick to determine citizenship in Assam, something that the BJP is keen on.
But the BJP has no good reason to part ways with the AGP and let it drift towards an anti-saffron national platform that many regional parties like Trinamul Congress are trying to work on. Its majority in Assam is not a very comfortable one and it cannot risk parting company with the AGP at this juncture.
Can the AGP afford to break away and go back to its pre 2001 position when it formed a government in Assam with support of left and smaller regional groups? Over the years the AGP conceded much ground to the BJP in the political space dominated by the anti migrant discourse in Assam.
It had no choice but to hang on to the saffron coattails as a junior partner in a steady reversal of fortunes over the last 15 years. But the BJP national leadership seem to have misjudged Assamese sentiments by pushing for the amendment to the Citizenship bill that, if passed, would provide citizenship to Bangladeshi Hindu migrants entering Assam after March 1971.
The AGP can capitalise on this but it seemingly stands to gain more by battling against the amendment while staying within the coalition. In short, neither the BJP nor the AGP have great compulsion to part ways, especially after the Saffrons seem to have gone on a reconsideration mode over the controversial amendment Bill. The AGP may have to pull the rug if the BJP finally push for the amendment Bill in parliament but until that happens, the marriage can stay.
In Tripura the BJP has been more direct because its majority is more decisive and because it has to quash all speculation over the IPFT demand for a separate state. The leftist opposition in Tripura is far stronger than the Congress and the AIUDF in Assam. It will make huge political capital if the BJP is found wavering on the separate state demand. So effectively it has told the IPFT to get lost if it wants — Twipraland is not on, Chief Minister Biplab Deb has made it clear in interview after interview.
In a state where Bengalis are a clear majority and that identity is not punctured by the religious divide as in Assam, the BJP needed the IPFT tribal vote bank to trounce the Left but it will be totally marginalised unless it can nip the Twipraland movement in the bud. So in Tripura, the BJP has to act tough and split the IPFT if necessary. It is up to the IPFT to part ways but will it do so it now and risk a split is a huge question.
Unlike Kashmir where the BJP was the junior partner, it leads the alliances in Assam, Tripura and Manipur. It has no reason to break them and it is up to the allies to part ways if they find the saffron agenda unacceptable. In Meghalaya, it hardly has the numbers to make an impact. So long as it can keep the Congress out of power, it would put up even with the ruling coalition’s decision to oppose the Citizenship Amendment Bill.