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For the first time, the Northeast will play a very significant role in the ensuing Lok Sabha elections. The hurly burly affairs of Indian politics have come out from the ghetto of Hindi belt.

Modi’s dream of returning to Delhi Durbar will depend on the performance of saffron brigade in the eastern flank of India—especially Northeast. The premier two parties—BJP and Congress will be eyeing the 25 Northeastern seats. The Shah of BJP has set the benchmark for his party cadres. He wants to win at least 21 seats. Of the 123 seats, which BJP lost in 2014—the twin seats of Barak Valley—Silchar and Karimganj were also there. BJP is desperate to win Silchar. It is not pinning hopes on Karimganj because this border town is dominated by minorities.

In 2014, the narrative of the opposition parties especially Congress was BJP’s myopic vision of nationalism which it claimed is averse to the idea of a ‘secular’ India.

Following its debacle in 2014, Congress seems to have learnt its lessons. The grand old party under the new Gandhi is trying to play a ‘soft Hindutva’ card in 2019. Rahul Gandhi’s frequent visits to the temples of Hindu deities stand testimony to this observation.

Now, secularism is no longer an issue in Indian polity. In the midst of hard and soft Hindutva debate—BJP will have to answer to few critical questions. The politics of Northeast is based on ethnicity and identity.

Assam is probably the only state in modern world where the concept of doubtful voters (D-voters) occupies a pivotal position in the lexicon of all the political parties. BJP promised to dismantle all the detention camps (abode of D-voters) across Assam—sadly this promise has not been met by Modi government.

Though BJP promised to pass the hotly debated Citizenship (Amendment) bill, 2016, here too BJP has failed to deliver. The bill is still languishing in Rajya Sabha. For the moment it seems that the bill has been dispatched to the cold storage. Certainly these two issues will dominate the political pitch in Barak Valley. BJP has already started trading charges against Congress accusing it of creating hurdles before the government in Rajya Sabha.

“The real face of Congress has been exposed. BJP has not moved an inch from its stated position on the plight of Hindu Bengalis. They are victims of religious persecution. I am confident Congress will get a befitting reply from this group of angry people in the coming Lok Sabha elections,” veteran BJP leader Kabindra Purkayastha said.

However, in the season of election, Congress is also not expected to take this blow lying down. All India Mahila Congress President and Silchar MP Sushmita Dev has countered this charge of the seasoned BJP leader.

“The revered senior most BJP leader is giving bytes to various channels and dailies these days on citizenship bill. I would like to clear the air of confusion. I have received information from my sources that the Assam CM and the alliance partners of BJP in Northeast have forced the Central government to halt this bill. Instead of hurling allegations against us BJP should first set its own house in order,” she added further.

It’s not yet clear who the saffron parivar will nominate from Silchar. But the national BJP President has already stated that ‘age’ will not be a factor in selecting candidates. “We will only look at the winnability factor of the candidate concerned,” Amit Shah told.

Purkayastha is the oldest horse of BJP in Assam and surely he would like to take one more shot in 2019. The octogenarian BJP leader is still active in politics and is considered as one of the dark horses. The resounding victory of BJP in Assam election two and a half years back was considered by many political analysts as a beginning of a new chapter in the complex history of Assam---within these years much water has flown through Barak River.

Things are not looking as rosy for the BJP. Barring the citizenship bill, another issue is going to rob BJP of its sleep in 2019. It’s the sordid tale of Cachar Paper Mill. More than two years have passed; the government has failed to take any concrete step. The simmering anger of the employees who are waiting for their pending salaries is likely to hit the prospects of BJP in Silchar.

Satraajit Palchoudhury

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