The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Elections in the Northeast are a curious blend of the national and the local. The Indigenous Nationalist Party of Twipra captures the dichotomy in its name — it aims to be both “indigenous” and “nationalist”. Little wonder that the fledgling party, born of the poll-eve merger of several tribal outfits in Tripura, has allied with one of the two major national parties, the Congress. The Democratic Alliance of Nagaland has the Bharatiya Janata Party as a minor partner. In Meghalaya, where both the Congress and the BJP are fighting the polls alone, they may eventually have to tie up with local parties to be part of any government. Such partnerships can benefit the region’s politics beyond the polls. For one thing, they can help remove the region’s sense of alienation from mainstream Indian politics. They can also be an important factor in ensuring stable governments. Militants in the region exploit the instability of governments and the people’s sense of isolation to carry on their subversive campaigns. At the same time, the presence of the national parties helps their local partners to look beyond their tribal or ethnic interests. National political issues can be part of the poll campaign even as local issues take centrestage. The elections thus offer a democratic tool for the closer integration of the region to the rest of the country. No other part of India needs this more than the Northeast because of the threats it faces from secessionist groups.

The problem, though, is that these alliances could be short-sighted and potentially dangerous. The ruling Left Front in Tripura may be crying foul over the Congress-INPT alliance for electoral reasons. After all, the Congress had long fought the Marxists in the state in alliance with another tribal outfit, the Tripura Upajati Juba Samiti. But the Congress needs to be careful to rein in the former rebel and INPT chief, Mr Bijoy Hrangkhawl, whose poll speeches have sometimes bordered on a hate campaign against the majority Bengali community. Ruthless insurgent groups have made Tripura a killing field and sought to sow seeds of discord between the tribals and the Bengalis. It would be a sadder state if the two main contestants, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Congress, subvert communal harmony in their race for power.

Similarly, the peace talks between New Delhi and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), led by Mr Isak Swu and Mr Thuingelang Muivah, must not be derailed by the electoral compulsions of the ruling Congress or the BJP. The peace process has reached a crucial stage and its success is far more important to the Nagas than the outcome of Wednesday’s elections. In Meghalaya, the elections can go a long way towards restoring the people’s faith in the democratic process. Defections from parties and the toppling of governments have reduced the state’s politics to a farce in recent years. In all three states, therefore, peace, political stability and communal harmony must remain the new governments’ primary concerns. This serves both national and local interests.

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