Opinion | Modi & his cards: Wait & watch

Mukut Das

With the 17th general election round the corner, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has played a fresh card by trying to hijack the Bengali sentiments by stating that the BJP is committed to transform Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s ‘Gateway to independence’ – the Northeast region – to a ‘Gateway to development’ of modern India.

It has become conspicuous that it would be a tough for the BJP to defeat the opposition in Assam since the Brahmaputra valley is outraged over the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 issue and therefore the saffron party has played its first stroke in a Bengali dominated area – Silchar on January 4.

It may be recalled that the previous year had witnessed the ‘war of words’ and spontaneous agitations over the Bill.

The Bill faced a massive protest in the Joint Parliamentary Committee’s (JPC) public hearing held in Guwahati on May 7 last year, on the other hand, the Bill received huge support in the Barak valley.

There had been reports in media about formation of hundreds of unknown organizations especially in Barak valley overnight to support the Bill through which the BJP-led NDA government has been striving to bring in illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The Bill will turn into a major factor in the updation and publication of the final National Register of Citizens (NRC).

Most of the political parties and organizations representing various ethnic groups have been demanding implementation of the historic 1985 Assam Accord and the updation of the NRC on the basis of the dateline set by the Accord.

Modi’s intention was clear when Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who addressed prior to the PM in Silchar, said in his speech that ‘no Hindus are illegal foreigners’.

PM Modi popularity has also comparatively decreased in recent times which was clear in his address in road-cum-rail Bogibeel Bridge inauguration ceremony as well as in the first Lok Sabha election rally in Silchar on January 4.

Social experts are of the opinion that demonetisation, failure to control price hike, Goods and Services Tax (GST) etc were Modi’s blunder for which he lost his popularity.

Congress claimed that ‘no Modi wave’ will work this time.

On the other hand, the Asom Gana Parishad is yet to clear its stand on the alliance with the BJP in Assam. Atul Bora, State Minister and AGP president recently said that the decision of the JPC is unacceptable and it is unilateral.

It may be recalled that the AGP had dashed off a letter to BJP national president Amit Shah and stated that the regional party “will have no other alternative except to repudiate the existing alliance with the BJP” if the Bill is passed in the Parliament. The AGP has been threatening to quit the alliance if the Bill is passed in the Parliament.

Will the AGP now break alliance with the BJP now that Modi made his stand on the Bill clear?

It may be recalled that while the BJP failed in three states  in the recently held assembly elections in five states – Mizoram, Telegana, Madhya Pradesh, Chattishgarh and Rajasthan; the Congress also lost its last fort in the Northeast region.

Regional party’s rise in the recently held assembly elections ahead of the general election is considered as a blow to the national political parties. It would definitely be a major factor in the Lok Sabha election too.

Now, it would be certainly interesting to watch whether the BJP will succeed in hijacking the Bengali sentiment in West Bengal and Tripura.

Which card will Modi play in West Bengal especially in the Assamese dominated areas to strengthen BJP’s grip in the state?

The views expressed by the author are personal and may not in any way represent those of TIME8.