Three more BJP MPs from the northeast states were inducted into the Union Council of ministers on Wednesday bringing the total representation from the region to five. The induction of Dr Rajkumar Ranjan Singh, former Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal, and woman Tripura MP Pratima Bhoumik brought the number of Central ministers from the northeast to five, which is the highest so far. Kiren Rijiju who was expectedly elevated to Cabinet rank and Rameswar Teli from Assam are the incumbent ministers. Most chief ministers from the region responded positively and spontaneously to the induction of record numbers of Union ministers but the stark reality was the absence of representation of MPs from its regional allies in the rejig. Incidentally all the ministers belonged to four northeastern states – Assam, Tripura, Manipur, and Arunachal Pradesh, that are ruled by the BJP. On the other hand, its allies the Mizo National Front-that ruled Mizoram, the National People’s Party-led alliance that ruled Meghalaya, the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party-that ruled Nagaland and the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha-that ruled Sikkim were ignored.
However, despite the literal rebuff, most of its allies have taken the development with dignity and high diplomacy. NPP leader W.R. Kharlukhi sees no malice stating that it is the Prime Minister’s prerogative to include any one into his ministry and announced that the party has no grievance for non-inclusion of any MP in the Union ministry. This is in concurrence to the views expressed by its national president and Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma. He lavished praise on Prime Minister Narendra Modi for inclusion of three more ministers from the region, tweeting that 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 party has a Lok Sabha and a Rajya Sabha member. MNF who have identical MPs and rules in Mizoram, NDPP President and Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio and Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) leader and state Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang are not openly making their opinions on being left out of the reshuffle.
The pertinent question is whether the BJP decision to leave out its allies will lead to political realignment in the northeastern region. When it comes to the dire need of numbers for support, the saffron party is comfortably placed in both Houses and its allies do not have much room for negotiation in this regard. On the other hand, due to its limited presence in their states the BJP allies are dependent on the support of the Narendra Modi government for smooth running of their administration. Thus, despite being ignored in the reshuffle there is practically little possibility of confrontational conduct from the alliance in the northeastern region. Moreover, the BJP was inclined to include all three new ministers for maintaining political stability and strengthening its hold in the region. After surrendering the chief minister post to Himanta Biswa Sarma, there was no doubt that Sonowal will be placated with a plum position at the Centre. Therefore, the inclusion of the former Assam chief minister was a foregone conclusion. On the other hand, Dr Ranjan, despite being a first time MP was touted to make it to the list of Central ministers this time as part of a strategy of retaining a hold in the upcoming Assembly elections. He is a popular leader among both tribals and non-tribals communities in Manipur and his inclusion could be linked with next year’s elections to the 60-member Manipur Assembly. Bhowmik is the female face of the party in the region. Besides, she has been credited for playing a vital part in the party’s surprise upheaval in the 2018 Assembly elections where the red bastion of Tripura was turned into saffron with a crucial victory. Probably, she made the cut as the lone woman BJP MP from the region too and also being the first native central minister from the state. Congress’ Santosh Mohan Deb and Triguna Sen represented Tripura in the Union Cabinet but Deb was from Silchar and Sen from West Bengal.
Further, it may be assumed that the BJP does not foresee any real threat from its allies and wants to take advantage of the safe passage to build its stranglehold in the region in the coming years. Thus, the party is looking ahead to augmenting its MPs from the region by inducting more Central ministers and putting pressures on the governments here, even those ruled by its allies, which concurs with the theory that everything is fair in love and war. At present, the BJP alone has 14 of the 25 Lok Sabha members compared to five for its allies while it has four of the 14 RS members and its partners have eight members.