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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 8, February 18, 2023

What do Gubernatorial appointments in the Northeast foretell? | Kumar Sanjay Singh

Friday 17 February 2023


Winston Churchill is credited to have stated, ‘Politics is not a game. It is an earnest business’. The recent appointments to as many as 13 gubernatorial posts, when countdown for Loksabha elections 2024 has already begun, confirms Churchill’s aphorism.

Perhaps the most significant story lurking behind the recent appointments is the increasing profile of northeastern states in the political arithmetic of BJP, by far the most electorally conscious of the contemporary political parties. With due apologies to TS Elliot BJP is a party that measures its political existence by electoral performance.

It’s being widely speculated that anticipating electoral reversals in its erstwhile strongholds, BJP is attempting to spread its electoral footprints in areas hitherto understood as peripheral to its dominance.

Evidently, Assam has emerged as the bridgehead for BJP’S northeastern outreach. It’s not fortuitous, therefore, that even the Delhi-based electronic and print media have underscored as significant, the appointment of the leader of the opposition, Rajasthan assembly, Shri. Gulab Chand Kataria, as Governor Assam.

Lurking behind the media spotlight to Mr. Kataria’s appointment is a far more significant story that testifies to BJP’S political manoeuvring in the northeastern states, not only electorally but also related to processes initiated for political pacification of the region. Of the raft of Accords/agreements adopted to achieve this end the more than two-and-a-half decades long Naga peace process has proved to be the most intransigent.

The recent gubernatorial appointments testify to the political objectives elaborated above. Interestingly, of the 13 gubernatorial appointments, 6 are for states of the northeastern states, even when they are structurally reduced to the political periphery of national politics. Of these, two states are scheduled to face assembly elections in a fortnight, viz., Nagaland and Meghalaya.

Unlike Tripura, which has a significant Hindu presence and BJP-led coalition rules; it is facing a decisive political moment in the dominantly Christian states of Nagaland and Meghalaya. In Nagaland the BJP seeks to establish its dominance organizationally and electorally, by expanding its base even while playing the role of a junior partner to a regional party. In Meghalaya the BJP is attempting to form a government replacing its erstwhile ally. Both these states, given their electoral significance, have new Governors.

Even more significantly four of the six new appointments to gubernatorial posts in the northeastern region are in states that are understood as stakeholders in the Naga peace process, that of: 1) Nagaland, Assam, Manipur and Arunachal.

At the risk sounding impetuous, please allow me to, derive two conclusions:
First, the current assembly elections in the northeastern states will witness a serious and calculated strategy by the BJP to establish its government in a Christian-dominated state. This will have an all-India ramification in future elections very much like the Hindutva laboratory in Gujarat.

Second, with the current gubernatorial appointments to Nagaland and the states abutting it all the set pieces have been put in place for tilting the balance of power in negotiations in favour of the central government. With this one can anticipate jumpstarting of the stalled naga talks in the aftermath of the assembly elections.

(Author: Kumar Sanjay Singh, Associate Professor, Swami Shraddhanand College, Delhi University)

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