Millennium Post

can Modi woo northeast?

Within 75 days from now, India will get its 16th Lok Sabha and a new government at the Centre. I am not here to predict the nature of the new government, its combination or whether it will survive its full term. But having said so, I can guess that main attraction of this political battle is zoomed towards two aspects. One, whether Narendra Modi will fulfill his not-so-long standing dream of addressing the nation from Lal Quila and second, who will emerge as number three party in India. The second aspect has become more interesting because of late at least four regional satraps are eyeing for that coveted number three position in the parliament so that number one or two can be forced to tow his or her whims in forming the next government. All four are famous war veterans: Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalithaa.

Let us accept for a fact now that Modi-led BJP will be the number one party in April-May election. All pre-poll surveys are also predicting so. To cross the hurdle of 200, he is leaving no stone unturned. To achieve this Modi has done his homework quite well and posted his trusted men in entire cow belt region with the hope to garner as many votes as possible because he knows very well that South of Bindhyas is certainly not his party’s favourite hunting ground. So is the entire northeast region where party’s presence is negligible. Knowing his party’s vulnerability in these two vast areas of the country Modi is playing all the tricks he knows to win the hearts and mind of the people. He is spending time to learn the language of the state he visits so that he can strike a chord with the locals. In West Bengal he recited Tagore, in Arunachal Pradesh, wearing a traditional headgear he raised the most sensitive issue of Chinese intrusions, spoke emotionally about the murder of Nido Tania in Delhi. In Assam, he drew a line between Muslim illegal immigrants and Hindu refugees. In Silchar and Guwahati he said in no uncertain terms that, ‘as soon as we come to power at the Centre, detention camps housing Hindu migrants from Bangladesh will be done away with. We have a responsibility towards Hindus who are harassed and suffer in other countries. Where will they go? India is the only place for them. We will have to accommodate them here.’

The careful Modi even elaborated his idea by saying that there were two kinds of people who came from Bangladesh to Assam. Those brought as a part of a ‘political conspiracy’ for vote-bank politics (read Muslims) of a particular party (read Congress) and others who were harassed (read Hindus) in the neighbouring country (Bangladesh). His prescription is like ‘the former and smugglers from Bangladesh should be pushed back, while the second category must find a place in the country’. To please the Assamese, he further clarified that it would be ‘unfair on Assam to bear the entire burden. They will be settled across the country with facilities to begin a new life’.

It is a fact that the possible emergence of Modi in Indian national arena is being looked by the aam aadmi of Bangladesh with suspicion. To them, Modi means massacre, Modi means rise of fundamentalism, Modi means danger to Islam. More so, most of them believe that the emergence of Modi will certainly alter the newfound bonhomie between India and Bangladesh. The Hindus of Bangladesh are also very sceptical about the fact that Modi at the helm of affairs may endanger their lives and properties to a great extent. The Hindus there have been facing the brunt of communalism every now and then. Any spurt of communal tension in India also scares them to a great extent. To them Modi is an unwelcome force. Precisely for that, Modi’s public speeches in Assam drew a lot of attention in Bangladesh media.

Historically, the Hindus of Bangladesh trust Sheikh Hasina and her party Awami League much more than her main opposition Begum Khaleda Zia of BNP. But the bitter truth is the Hindus have also suffered a lot in the hands of unruly Awami League hooligans. There are reports that just after the national election several Hindu families were attacked even by the League supporters. Even now, after the first phase of ‘upzilla’ elections, it is reported that rival League supporters attacked the hapless Hindus even in Rangpur constituency from where Sheikh Hasina was elected. The irony is, despite several assurances and actions by the government the perpetrators are not booked and penalised. They feel more insecure when leaders like Modi spews venom in the name of protecting the minorities of India’s most trusted neighbour.

Assam and West Bengal are the two worst hit states of India whenever there was unrest in Bangladesh.  The longest pours border lures economically weak people from Bangladesh into India for a better tomorrow. Only a vibrant economy, a strong secular movement and rule of law in our neighbourhood can prevent this unwelcome crossover. In the last five-year rule, Hasina government tried to improve its record on these three fronts.

Economic growth has been steady at 6 plus per cent for the last three years. The political unrest of last year did cast a spell of gloom but the government is overcoming its shortcomings fast so that the economy does not suffer anymore. Secular movement is being strengthened day by day specially after the Shahbag movement last year. Now is the time the Hasina administration has to prove that the rule of law prevails over everything in her country.

Narendra Modi, like crores of other Indians, may feel pains for the plight of Hindus of Bangladesh. But he must realise that more he reacts, more he cries, more he welcomes them in India, more he adds salt to their injuries and worries them. A strong, vibrant and truly secular India will always be helpful to Bangladesh to become stronger and secular and free of communal tension. That should be the goal of Narendra Modi, not the idea of how best he can assimilate Bangladeshi Hindus in India.

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