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Regional parties in the North East are gearing up to fight for their rights and more importantly, take on the Congress in 2014
MONALISA GOGOI | New Delhi, November 11, 2013 13:16
Tags : AJYCP | Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chatra Parishad | United Democratic Party | Meghalaya | People's Party of Arunachal | Armed Forces Special Power Act | AFSPA | AASU |

With elections approaching and a general anti-Congress sentiment prevailing in the air, North East India’s regional political parties, hobbled for most of the last decade, are trying hard to get their act together. The time for pickings has arrived, the once-powerful All Assam Students Union (AASU) is in its death throes in the region’s largest state, and political space is up for grabs.

Keeping that in mind, ten regional political parties with completely diverse agendas decided to come under a single umbrella, the North East Regional Political Front (NERFT) in Guwahati recently, joining hands to protest ‘step motherly’ treatment by the central government against the seven sister states.

Chief Minister of Nagaland Neiphiu Rio and former Assam Chief Minister and president of Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) Prafulla Kumar Mahanta are convener and chief adviser respectively. Other important attendees included Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chambling, former chief ministers Zoram Thanga from Mizoram and Dokoper Reyok from Meghalaya and surprisingly even a representative from the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) from faraway Punjab. Interestingly, this joint forum has one thing in common – they have promised to fight against Congress in the ensuing parliamentary elections.

In this rare show of unanimity, representatives from all the fronts took a solemn oath to fight for their rights; 17 resolutions were passed, most of them well known and quite diverse: steps to stop illegal infiltration in the North East, scrapping of the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA), protection for students from the North East, 80 percent reservation for locals in all government and non-government offices and effective measures to counter China’s meddling in Arunachal Pradesh.

Says chief adviser NERFT Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, ‘‘States in the North East have similar problems and it is time to raise them unitedly rather than individually, as has been done so far. The centre will then be compelled to pay greater attention.’’

In the NERFT, there are at least three members from each state and leaders say this is just the beginning. According to chief convener Neiphiu Rio, more political parties will join hands with the forum in the months to come. The constituent parties of the forum include the AGP, Nagaland People’s Front (NPF), United Democratic Party (UDP) of Meghalaya, People's Party of Arunachal (PPA), Manipur People’s Party (MPP) and the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura.

Points out Mahanta: ‘‘It is true that not just Assam but the whole North East is treated as a militant hub; militancy issues arise because of the central government’s discriminatory treatment. We hope the newly-formed forum will be able to concentrate on their demands.’’

Regional sentiments in this region have always ran high. Says Akhil Gogoi, president of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Parishad, ‘‘The Central government treats Assam’s resources as their own property while problems of the state are treated as the problems of the enemy. So regional political parties are an answer to raise local issues and stay by them.''
Traditionally, most solutions to North East India's vexed problems are laid at the door of the central government.

According to senior advocate Nekibur Zaman, both militancy and illegal infiltration are creations of New Delhi. ‘‘The border is open for illegal migrants and educated youth is being deprived of their rights. Outsiders are preferred both in Central and state government establishments. The government does not take notice of democratic movements. Feisty activist Irom Sharmila has been protesting implementation of the AFSPA through a non-stop hunger strike for the last 12 years, without any result. When a militant organisation starts to disrupt life, the Central government uses the divide and rule policy among militant groups. As a result the main demands of the agitating groups remains untouched and militancy continues.’’

With the formation of this regional front, hope has rekindled. President of the Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chatra Parishad (AJYCP) Manuj Barua believes ‘‘That only regional parties will be able to solve problems of the region because they understand the issues. Issues that afflict the North East are totally different and have to be treated differently.’’ It is a line that was once sprouted by the AASU as well. The latest forum is a good beginning but at the moment, apart from anti-Congressism, nothing else holds the group together. The only presence of a Narendra Modi link in the forum is the SAD. Maybe, it has seeds of a larger potential alliance next year. 

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017