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This article was first published 1 year ago  » News » 'Sangma and Rio are leaders to watch out for'

'Sangma and Rio are leaders to watch out for'

Last updated on: March 07, 2023 11:30 IST
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'Conrad Sangma is an interesting mix of charisma, ability and has emerged as a capable leader.'
'Neiphiu Rio is very unassuming, quiet, subtle and stands out among all Naga leaders today.'

IMAGE: Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma, his wife Dr Mehtab Chandee and supporters of his National People's Party celebrate victory in the state assembly elections in South Tura constituency, March 2, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

"The BJP is learning to be flexible in order to accommodate regional differences and distinctiveness," says Dr Rajesh Dev, Associate Professor, Department of Politics, Delhi University and former guest faculty at the Northeast Hill University in Shillong.

"In that process, perhaps it will retain its core identity in terms of its ideology in the mainland, but will be more flexible when it goes into the periphery," Dr Dev tells's Archana Masih in the concluding segment of an interesting conversation.


The Tripura Motha party has made a mark as a regional party emerging as the second largest party in Tripura. Do you see it allying with the BJP?

Tipra Motha will immediately lose all its credibility if it allies with the BJP. They might have some kind of working relationship, but I don't think they will build an alliance yet.

Other than the rhetorical question of indigenous identity and separate state, Tipra Motha doesn't have an alternative agenda.

There has always been a divide between the Bengalis and the tribals in Tripura. The rise of insurgency was also based on this faultline.

Tripura Motha's campaign purely revolved around the question of identity and the exploitation of the tribes by the non-tribes. It has played a very significant role in this election.

I have a feeling that the BJP is going to take note and perhaps address this issue to actually enter the spaces captured by the Tipra Motha.

Tipra Motha's political rhetoric was polarising. It drew aspirational, unemployed indigenous youths because indigenous identity is a very crucial element in the politics of the region.

Both Tipra Motha in Tripura and the Voice of the People in Meghalaya which won 4 out of 12 seats it contested are focussing on indigenous identity.

It is not possible for many of Tipra Motha's demands to be fulfilled. One of the ways they can settle this through is by political accommodation of these leaders or through schemes which bring the youths into the system while we might have smaller states in the long run.

The BJP has said, at least not very publicly that there should be 50 states in India.

Who are the interesting leaders to watch out for in these states?

Conrad Sangma is one leader to watch out for, despite the corruption charges levelled against his party.

He is an interesting mix of charisma, ability, dynamism and has emerged as a capable leader. Like his father P A Sangma, he has the ability to play a bigger role in the future, not only in the region, but in national politics.

The other very interesting person is the chief minister of Nagaland, Neiphiu Rio. He is a contrast to Conrad Sangma -- very unassuming, quiet, subtle.

He has a very strong leadership which stands out among all the Naga leaders today.

He is a leader that has already had a role in national politics and can perhaps bridge the divide among the among the various Naga tribes.

Sangma and Rio are two leaders we need to watch in the North East. They will play a big role in connecting this region with the 'mainland' and will be good assets.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra D Modi flashes the victory sign at Bharatiya Janata Party workers as party President Jagat Prakash Nadda and Union Minister Amit Shah look on during celebrations after the party's performance in the Tripura assembly elections at the BJP HQ in New Delhi, March 2, 2023. Photograph: Vijay Verma/PTI Photo

What are the marked changes in Northeast in the last 5 years?

The BJP is actually not engaging in hyperbole when it says that peace has returned to the north east. This is a very significant change that has taken place, despite the prevalence of a subterranean culture of dissatisfaction and some alienation.

In the five to ten years, the pace at which the central government has tried to 'accommodate' this region with the mainland is very noteworthy and one needs to take into consideration.

So in that sense, the north east, in fact, has become much more peaceful.

Also, in the last 15-20 years, there is a reduced sense of alienation -- the people of the north east today consider themselves more a part of India and also feel that they have something to contribute in their own unique ways.

This is one of the things which is very noteworthy, and this government has played a very good role in that respect.

For instance, Assam, despite having a different subculture, stands out as a beacon and is actually the hub of South East Asia.

Some of these states still rank low in terms of infant mortality etc, but in terms of the perception war, the north east is more integrated and accommodated within the national imagination.

The rhetoric of the BJP is completely different in the north east. Beef and love jihad are not mentioned in the Garo Hills and many other areas in Nagaland, Meghalaya.

The BJP will hold on to its core ideology, and as it progresses, the party is also becoming very strategic. It is learning to be flexible in order to accommodate all these regional differences and distinctiveness.

In that process, perhaps it will retain its core identity in terms of its ideology in the mainland, but will be more flexible when it goes into the periphery.

It is a two-way dynamic.

IMAGE: J P Nadda, third from left, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, second from right, and Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, centre, meet with Amit Shah in New Delhi, March 6, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

Is the result of these elections likely to impact the other state elections to be held this year?

Tripura may be shown as an example of BJP dominating the north east, but it's actually not the truth. They might win in the war of perception, but the north east will not matter in the Karnataka election.

The culture of states of the South -- Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala -- is completely different.

Any party has the right to win any state, but the political culture of the south is very different from the north.

Therefore, I don't think what happens in the north can be replicated in the south.

One size does not fit all.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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