Mixed response from BJP allies as NE sees largest quota at Centre

Guwahati/Agartala , Jul 08, 2021, IANS

By Sujit Chakraborty

The BJP's allies in the northeast had a mixed response as the region saw a record number of ministers, including two of cabinet rank, figure in the Narendra Modi government after Wednesday's reshuffle.

With the induction of Sarbananda Sonowal (Assam), Rajkumar Ranjan Singh (Manipur) and Pratima Bhoumik (Tripura) into the Union Council of Ministers on Wednesday, the number of Central ministers from the northeast has risen to five, which is highest so far.

Kiren Rijiju (Arunachal Pradesh), who was elevated to Cabinet rank, and Rameswar Teli (Assam), were the incumbent ministers from the region.

The presence of two Cabinet ministers -- Sonowal and Rijiju -- from the northeastern region at the same time is also a record.

However, all the five ministers, are all BJP leaders and belong to four northeastern states - Assam, Tripura, Manipur, and Arunachal Pradesh, ruled by the BJP.

There was no presence from the other four states ruled by allies - the Mizo National Front-ruled Mizoram, the National People's Party-led alliance ruled Meghalaya, the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party-ruled Nagaland and the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha-ruled Sikkim.

NPP state President W.R. Kharlukhi said that it is the Prime Minister's prerogative to include any one into his ministry. "We have no grievance for non-inclusion of any MP in the Union ministry," he said.

Meghalaya Chief Minister and NPP's national President Conrad K. Sangma, however, thanked Prime Minister Modi for inclusion of three more ministers from the region, tweeting the state and "the whole of North East is elated" and the reshuffle "proves inclusivity and diversity which is the essence of a New India".

The NPP has a Lok Sabha and a Rajya Sabha member, and so does the MNF in Mizoram.

MNF President and Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga refused to comment on the expansion, and NDPP President and Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio and Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) leader and state Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang also followed suit.

Political experts said that the BJP ignored its allies in the northeastern region while choosing the central ministers, but this would not lead to any backlash.

"Though the BJP ignored its allies in selecting the central ministers, the junior partners would not express their any adverse reaction as they need the support of the NDA government at the Centre in running their governments in the states.

"That's why they have been maintaining a lukewarm strategy in this regard," renowned political commentator of Assam, Bikash Talukdar told IANS.

The eight northeastern states have 25 Lok Sabha Members and 14 Rajya Sabha Members. Of the 25 LS members, the BJP alone has 14 members while its allies have five members. Of the 14 RS members, the BJP has four and its partners have four members. A Rajya Sabha seat in Assam is lying vacant and the BJP sources said that Sonowal expected to be nominated for it.

BJP's central leadership had decided to include Sonowal, 59, in the Union Cabinet when Himanta Biswa Sarma was named the new Assam Chief Minister after the saffron party-led alliance stormed back to power in the March-April Assembly elections.

Of the others, teacher-turned-politician Rajkumar Ranjan Singh, a BJP Lok Sabha member from Inner Manipur, and Pratima Bhowmik, who was elected to the Lok Sabha from Tripura West, are first-time ministers.

Political observers believe that Singh, a popular leader among both tribals and non-tribals, was included in the Union Ministry with an eye on next year's elections to the 60-member Manipur Assembly.

Bhowmik is the BJP's Tripura Vice President. After unsuccessfully contesting Assembly elections several times, she was elected to the Lok Sabha from the West Tripura constituency in 2019.

A science graduate, Bhowmik, known as Tripura's "didi", had played a vital role in the party's sweep to power in the 2018 Assembly elections, delivering a crushing blow to the CPI(M)-led Left Front, which had been ruling the state for 25 consecutive years.

She is the first central minister from Tripura and lone woman Union Minister from the northeast.

Earlier, Congress' Santosh Mohan Deb and Triguna Sen represented Tripura in the Union Cabinet but they did not belong to the state. Deb was from Assam's Silchar and Sen, a former Vice-Chancellor of Jadavpur University, from West Bengal.

(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at [email protected])