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Why isn’t Muskrat Falls megadam project sparking outrage?

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In 2019, the entirely preventable methylmercury poisoning of the traditional country food web of Indigenous people downstream of the Muskrat Falls megadam in Labrador is set to begin. It’s remarkable, though perhaps unsurprising in a country with an ongoing history of such atrocities, that this impending criminal act — which violates all aspects of international humanitarian law, has been categorized by some as a war crime and of falling under the definition of genocide — is clearly and plainly happening out in the open, yet sparking little outrage.

It’s also funded to the tune of $9.2 billion by a federal government that touts this destruction of Indigenous people’s food supply and traditional way of life as part of its green-energy strategy and respectful nation-to-nation relationships.

This week in Labrador, Indigenous and non-Indigenous people who live downstream of the megadam — which also threatens mass casualty drowning because a significant portion of the dam is supposed to be held back by a natural formation composed of quick clay, which liquefies and gives way under intense pressure — are spending their days in a colonial court. Their alleged crime has been to commit a series of peaceful acts of land protection, from occupying the work site for four days in October 2016 to conducting a sacred ceremony.

Direct action October 29

As the Labrador land protectors face fines, restrictions on their movements and associations, and possible jail time — four land protectors have already spent weeks at a time in maximum security prisons — a group of their supporters heads to Parliament Hill on Monday, October 29. On that afternoon, they plan a non-violent rally and direct action, risking arrest to enter the House of Commons and place on the desks of MPs the pictures and words of those most at risk, as well as copies of the scientific reports and treaties being ignored by politicians who claim that the most important relationship is the one they have with Indigenous peoples.

Given the proximity to Halloween, some demonstartors will be wearing masks of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, and Labrador MP Yvonne Jones will also try and enter to apologize in advance for the Muskrat Falls disaster and demand that federal support be ended.

The Parliament Hill gathering takes place just over two weeks after the passing of Steve Fobister Sr., the former Treaty 3 Grand Chief and Grassy Narrows First Nation Chief who died October 11 at the age of 66 from mercury poisoning. Fobister fought most of his life for the rights of those poisoned by mercury at Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong, where up to 90 per cent of the people suffer from the debilitating effects of mercury poisoning. (A vigil honouring Fobister at Toronto’s Queen’s Park takes place Thursday, October 25 at 7 p.m.)

In a letter to the provincial and federal governments, Fobister’s family challenged both Trudeau as well as provincial Health Minister Christine Elliott directly. “Our beloved Steve passed away without ever getting the closure of having a government minister look him in the eye and admit that he was poisoned by mercury,” they wrote.

“Instead he was forced to fight for four decades for mercury justice in the face of denial, delay, and discrimination. We call on you to admit at long last that Steve Fobister Sr. lived with mercury poisoning and died from mercury poisoning. Will you respect Steve by speaking the truth, and commit to fairly compensate all Grassy Narrows people for the ongoing mercury crisis that has been denied and neglected for so long? Steve always wanted the government to admit that he had been poisoned by mercury. Now we take up his fight to honour him. Trudeau and Elliott, will you admit that Steve was poisoned, and will you compensate Grassy Narrows fairly for our mercury crisis?”

Ontario chose to poison Indigenous people

A petition to Trudeau and Elliott reminds them that:

“94 per cent of Grassy Narrows people receive no compensation for the mercury crisis which continues to rob them of their loved ones and to ravage their health, culture, livelihood, rights, and environment. The survivors of this avoidable disaster deserve the best possible health care and support, including a Mercury Home and Treatment Centre so that their sick loved ones can be treated with dignity, close to their families.”

Last October, Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner Dianne Saxe said successive provincial governments in Ontario “chose to allow the ongoing poisoning of the communities,” and a report she wrote noted that “after accepting financial responsibility for the mercury contamination, the Ontario government declined to take action for decades, largely ignoring the suffering of the Grassy Narrows First Nation and Wabaseemoong peoples.”

Saxe’s report pointed out that the contamination “stripped the people of Wabaseemoong and Grassy Narrows of important facets of their cultural practices, livelihoods and health.”

It’s an all-too familiar story for Rita Monias, a Pimicikamak Okimawin elder who will travel more than 3,000 kilometres from her home in what is also known as Cross Lake, Manitoba, to take part in the Parliament Hill rally October 29. Monias, who helped lead a six-week occupation of the Jenpeg Manitoba generating station in 2014, says she hopes to shine a national spotlight on the role hydro dams have played in devastating Indigenous communities like hers, and to share with MPs — if she is allowed into the House of Commons — that the same future is in store for Indigenous people in Labrador unless the Muskrat Falls megadam is shut down.

(Significantly, Manitoba Hydro International played a major role in helping sanction the Muskrat Falls project, producing a report that was embraced by then Newfoundland and Labrador premier Kathy Dunderdale as ammunition she needed to fight back against those who demanded the seeking of Indigenous consent and solid scientific proof that the megadam would not cause serious damage. In recognizing this connection, a fundraiser for Labrador Land Protectors takes place in Winnipeg on October 27 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Strong Badger Coffeehouse).

“We have always heard promises of jobs, of compensation, of respectful nation-to-nation relationships, but that’s not the reality we see in our communities once hydro dams come in and change everything, destroying our ways of life,” Monias says.

“We have seen major displacement, a loss of cultural knowledge, reduced access to traditional foods and medicines and far fewer opportunities to take part in our traditional economy, destruction of our burial grounds and cultural sites, the fear of eating our traditional foods because of methylmercury poisoning, injury and death due to hazardous navigation on the waters, and major changes and reductions in the wildlife whose patterns have been disrupted by the dams. We cannot allow any more environmental devastation on our Mother Earth. We have to protect it.”

Unnecessary and avoidable suffering

In 2001, the Manitoba Aboriginal Rights Coalition (MARC) released a report, “Let Justice Flow,” which concluded that “the ongoing suffering of Cree and Métis peoples as a result of hydroelectric dams is both unnecessary and avoidable.” This followed on the report of the Manitoba Aboriginal Justice Inquiry in 1991, which found that:

“Aboriginal people also argue that they were never told of the environmental destruction that would occur. They say that they were never told that graves would be washed away and fish habitats demolished, nor that an entire way of life for what previously had been strong communities would disappear.”

The MARC report quoted Pimicikamak Okimawin resident Bobby Brightnose, who said:

“Our people are grieving, they are grieving for land, the water and a way of life that was brought to an abrupt halt. I remember going along the shoreline to pick medicine with my late grandmother only to find it flooded. My grandmother stood there crying because that was her life. Her life was the land. There is a great deal of grief that needs to be resolved and dealt with among our people in Cross Lake.”

APTN reporter Justin Brake recently completed a series of news reports on the impact of hydro dams on the Indigenous people in northern Manitoba. In one segment, Ramona Neckoway, from Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation at Nelson House, truthfully names what is taking place as genocide.

“For me this is a cultural genocide that’s going on,” she told APTN. “And I don’t use those words lightly. I say that because I see that there are entire generations of children in our communities that don’t go on the water, that don’t understand the importance of that water to who we are, that have never left the reserve, this cage that they’ve created through colonial policies that have been imposed on us. To me, Nisichawayasihk, our territory, actually is much bigger than the reserve that they allotted to us. And we were using that territory — my mother’s generation was using that territory, going to camps, going to these different spaces and actively using that land and that water.”

Misipawistik councillor Heidi Cook agreed, noting that the effects of hydro dams have been worse even than residential schools because they have destroyed their homes. She spoke poignantly of how hearing the sounds of the rapids for miles around not only defined a sense of place, but also helped remind people of who and where they were. But after construction and damning the flow of the rivers, there was only silence. Cook told APTN that:

“I felt it myself, personally, that as somebody from Grand Rapids I was robbed of my birthright to know these rapids and to have this beautiful part of my home sing me to sleep at night, and greet me in the morning when I wake up.”

In September, the abuses of Manitoba Hydro were the focus of a press conference where one Indigenous woman, Martina Saunders, announced a Manitoba Human Rights Commission complaint, as Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Garrison Settee reminded reporters that “our people have been oppressed. Our people have been treated as if they are second-class citizens in their own lands.”

A coast-to-coast scourge

The devastating impact of hydro dams on Indigenous communities is not limited to Muskrat Falls or Manitoba (nor are such appalling consequences limited to hydro projects, given the endless examples of Canadian extractive industries wreaking havoc in Indigenous communities around the globe). Dozens of other communities face predictions that the scourge of methylmercury poisoning will threaten them with current and planned projects. A group of Harvard scientists wrote in their 2016 report, “Future Impacts of Hydroelectric Power Development on Methylmercury Exposures of Canadian Indigenous Communities,” that “all 22 Canadian hydroelectric facilities being considered for near-term development are located within 100 kilometres of Indigenous communities.” (eight are in Yukon; two each in Nunavut and Manitoba; four in Quebec, one each in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and B.C.; and two in Labrador).

They explore both the significant projected increases in the bioaccumulating neurotoxin methylmercury at Muskrat Falls and then point out that modeled poison reservoir levels at 11 of the proposed 21 hydroelectric sites across Canada “are comparable or greater than the Muskrat Falls reservoir.” In practical terms, this means that said poison will affect those who rely on a traditional country diet of fish, fowl, seal and other mammals in whom the poison bioaccumulates.

“Country foods are known to confer a wide-range of nutritional and social health benefits to indigenous communities, and nutritious alternative food choices are limited in the Canadian North,” the report’s authors write. “Past studies suggest reducing or avoiding consumption of country foods may also result in substantial adverse impacts on individual health.” They propose that any such project must focus first and foremost on the removal or mitigation of poison risk, noting that interventions “such as the removal of organic carbon from the planned reservoir regions prior to flooding” should be considered.

That recommendation for clearance of the reservoir area at Muskrat Falls has been flat-out rejected by the Newfoundland and Labrador government, and it’s an issue on which the federal government remains deathly silent, even as their own experts have urged such mitigation measures. Once reservoir levels rise next spring, the methylmercury accumulation will accelerate, as will the heightened risk of a dam break.

In the meantime, the Canadian government’s support for these dangerous dams flies in the face of their legally binding commitments under the Minamata Convention on Mercury, a legally binding treaty negotiated under the United Nations Environment Program to reduce mercury emissions and to protect the environment and human health. When she signed the treaty in April, 2017, Catherine McKenna proclaimed: “Our government is unwavering in its commitment to safeguard the environment and the health of Canadians from the effects of mercury.”

The convention Canada signed on to is clear in recognizing  “the particular vulnerabilities of Arctic ecosystems and Indigenous communities because of the biomagnification of mercury and contamination of traditional foods, and concerns about Indigenous communities more generally with respect to the effects of mercury.”

But the Trudeau government is plowing ahead nonetheless, having shown with Trans Mountain, the tar sands, Site C, Line 3, LNG and other megaprojects, that it simply does not care about the voices of Indigenous people. The scourge of methylmercury and other poisons contaminating traditional country food webs is one 21st-century version of the Canadian government’s 19th-century approach to genocide, when the same strategy of using food as a weapon was employed by John A. Macdonald.

As James Daschuk, author of Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation and the Loss of Aboriginal Life, writes:

“Despite guarantees of food aid in times of famine in Treaty No. 6, Canadian officials used food, or rather denied food, as a means to ethnically cleanse a vast region from Regina to the Alberta border as the Canadian Pacific Railway took shape. For years, government officials withheld food from Aboriginal people until they moved to their appointed reserves, forcing them to trade freedom for rations. Once on reserves, food placed in ration houses was withheld for so long that much of it rotted while the people it was intended to feed fell into a decades-long cycle of malnutrition, suppressed immunity and sickness from tuberculosis and other diseases. Thousands died.”

Daschuk adds that Macdonald, acting as “both prime minister and minister of Indian affairs during the darkest days of the famine, even boasted that the Indigenous population was kept on the ‘verge of actual starvation,’ in an attempt to deflect criticism that he was squandering public funds.”

Promises to ancestors

All of these issues provide a backdrop to the trials taking place in Labrador’s colonial courts, where land protectors will be speaking many truths about their motivations, their hopes, and their commitments. Among them is Denise Cole of Happy Valley Goose Bay, who was hauled into court for allegedly violating a court order by Nalcor, the provincial Crown corporation behind Muskrat Falls, when she performed a ceremony “to ask for healing and safety for the land, water, and people.”

Writing earlier this year, Cole declared:

“My duties to pray and hold sacred ceremony are more important than the unjust court orders that Nalcor uses to keep us away from our traditional lands as they destroy them for their Muskrat Falls hydro project. Creator is watching, Mother Earth is reacting. I know I am on the side of what is right along with many beautiful protectors and supporters across the nation and on our homeland of Labrador. I had to sign an undertaking to stay away from the place of our Labrador ancestors. The Muskrat Falls north side is a very spiritual and sacred place. This court order essentially keeps me away from my ‘church’ and forces me to dishonour my responsibilities to the land and spirits of Muskrat Falls. I know that right now I have to do that for the greater cause of helping save the river, land, and lives downstream from this megadam disaster. Still rest assured, my resolve is strong and unwavering and there is strength in my tears. I will perform ceremony in this place again, I promise that to the ancestors and Creator.”

As supporters gather in Ottawa — unceded, unsurrendered Algonquin Territory — on Monday, Cole’s words will be among the many that other land protectors hope to place on the desks of MPs in the House of Commons. When a similar group, including four Labrador Land Protectors, tried to do the same thing in May, 15 of them were arrested and banned from Parliament Hill for 90 days.

The presence of land protectors from Manitoba on Monday will also help mark the fourth anniversary of the six-week occupation of the Manitoba Hydro Jenpeg generation site, where Pimicikamak Okimawin evicted colonial staff and refused to leave. At the time, Tommy Monias, one of the hundreds on site, informed media that:

“We’re just doing what we normally do in the last 2,000 years which is hang around in our lands. Hydro is occupying our lands. This is traditional territory of Pimicikamak people. We were always here. It’s Hydro that showed up here 31 years ago and occupied our lands. This is where my ancestors have travelled for thousands of years.”

It is such outbreaks of democracy that remind us of the words of the sorely missed Steve Fobister, Sr., who said when on hunger strike in 2014 at the Ontario legislature: “Words don’t mean anything anymore. Direct action is all I have left. And here I am.”

Matthew Behrens is a freelance writer and social justice advocate who co-ordinates the Homes not Bombs non-violent direct action network. He has worked closely with the targets of Canadian and U.S. ‘national security’ profiling for many years.

Photo: Government of Newfoundland and Labrador/Flickr

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India’s VIP culture: Forget Lincoln’s definition of democracy. India’s government is of VIPs, by VIPs and for VIPs

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Last week, the Madras high court ordered the National Highways Authority of India to separate ordinary citizens from VIPs at toll gates, with a dedicated lane for the latter. Of course, high court judges are included in the list of VIPs. The court held it to be ‘disheartening’ and ‘very unfortunate’ that judges are ‘compelled to wait in the toll plaza for 10 to 15 minutes’.

NHAI decided to challenge the directive. One might have expected the judges to be rather more concerned that more than a million cases have been pending in 24 high courts across India for over a decade. According to CJI Dipak Misra, the total backlog of cases at all levels of the judiciary is a staggering 33 million! The impact of this delay should weigh a bit more heavily in the minds of the learned judges while they leave matters of administration in the hands of the executive branch of government.

Uday Deb

What is telling about the directive is the VIP mentality that has become part of the DNA of India’s ruling elite. Contrary to Abraham Lincoln’s famous definition of democracy, India has a government of VIPs, by VIPs and for VIPs. They do what they can, the people suffer what they must. In the heyday of European empires, colonial masters ruled imperiously over conquered subjects. During the Raj, the British class system fused seamlessly with India’s caste system to entrench social divisions even more rigidly.

After independence, India proudly declared itself a sovereign democratic republic and added the word ‘socialist’ in the Constitution. The central tenet of the four words taken together – sovereign, democratic, socialist, republic – is the sovereignty of the people. Politicians and officials are their servants. But as in other self-described socialist and communist paradises, India’s ruling elites captured all the privileges while the disempowered populace was saddled with poverty, scarcity and general misery.

The elite moved into the newly-vacated opulent bungalows of Lutyens’ New Delhi, even as the growing mass of destitute citizens lived in slums that sprang up along the city’s outskirts. Gradually political office became the fastest route to miraculous wealth acquisition and conspicuous consumption. In time the brazenness of privileged behaviour spread to an all-encompassing sense of entitlement as the political and bureaucratic elite, in that order, began to act like feudal overlords over citizens.

The more that the quality of public services (health, education, infrastructure) decayed and institutions were degraded and corrupted, the greater was the distance between the lifestyle of the closed circle of the elite and ordinary citizens. Inevitably this morphed into the VIP culture that Indians by and large detest with a depth of contempt, anger and resentment that is difficult for foreigners to fathom.

The Congress party bears particular responsibility for this sorry state of affairs as the party of government in New Delhi and most states after independence. One of the great attractions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election winning slogan of good governance in 2014 was it promised to restore the rightful balance in relations between citizens, officials and politicians. ‘Twas not to be. In this as in most other respects, the gap between boastful rhetoric and actual practice remains distressingly wide: the 56-inch chest has been overshadowed by a 96-inch tongue.

Modi has tried to lead by example in some respects and is not in the least bit ostentatious himself. Nor has he given any indication so far of abusing his office for private gain or mistreating citizens. But this was the defence that his predecessor Manmohan Singh adopted without success: that the sea of corruption in which so many of his ministers were drowning was no indictment of his performance, for he himself was squeaky clean.

Similarly, although Modi himself has not been seduced by the VIP culture, he has failed to assert himself against those from within his and allied parties who have very publicly abused their offices. Perhaps he did learn the trick of bathing with a raincoat from Dr Saheb after all.

An obvious display of VIP culture that strikes foreign visitors is the list, in full public display at airports, of more than 30 categories of VIPs exempt from pre-boarding security screening. And how else other than a deeply instilled VIP culture do we explain Shiv Sena’s MP Ravindra Gaikwad’s air rage last year when he boasted he’d used his slippers to hit a 60-year old Air India staffer 25 times?

In a civilised country Gaikwad would have been expelled from the party, charged with assault and lost his seat. The party would have moved quickly to apologise to the attendant and the people and promised that such appallingly thuggish behaviour is neither condoned by nor acceptable to the party. But not in India’s corrupted political culture. Instead, Shiv Sena threatened to disrupt air travel. The Centre capitulated to this mobster-like blackmail and ordered Air India to take Gaikwad off the no-fly-list. Throughout the highly publicised episode, Modi’s silence was as eloquent as his predecessor’s on maha-scandals.

Compare this to a notorious incident in Pakistan – supposedly a less robust democracy – where on 15 September 2014, former interior minister Rehman Malik held up a plane for two hours. When he finally boarded, angry passengers harangued him and refused to let the plane take off until he had been thrown off. A passenger uploaded a video of the incident to YouTube. Two weeks later he was sacked from his unrelated job but not before his video was widely shared and praised by a public sick to death of Pakistan’s VIP culture.

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Priyanka Gandhi’s entry into UP politics has sent political opponents into tizzy

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Conventional political wisdom, in the absence of credible caste Census data, classifies 52 per cent of the state’s population as ‘Backward Classes’, 18 per cent as Dalits, 5 per cent each of Brahmins and Thakurs and Muslims as 17 per cent of the people. Smaller castes and sub castes are said to constitute the remaining three per cent.

The caste cauldron of eastern Uttar Pradesh has witnessed Kurmis float the ‘Apna Dal’ and the Rajbhars forming the Bharat Samaj Party. Boatmen and fishermen in eastern UP also are clamouring for better representation in politics. They will want their pound of flesh and bargain hard for seats. The small parties have small pockets of influence but are said to be important. Some say they are more important in 2019 than they were in 2014. Can they win half a dozen seats on their own or play the spoiler and, if so, for whom?

Eastern Uttar Pradesh took an active part in the freedom struggle and has been a hot bed of politics for long. With the passage of time, people have become politically aware and have responded to leaders like Ram Manohar Lohia and Chaudhary Charan Singh in the past.

“But as you can imagine, this is a snakepit,” quips a regional Congress leader. “It is going to be an uphill task for Priyanka Ji. She has very little time, less than two months, before the general election and it would certainly require a Herculean effort on her part,” he quips.

But that she means business became evident in less than 48 hours of her arrival in Lucknow, when she, flanked by the general secretary in charge of western UP Jyotiraditya Scindia and Keshav Deo Maurya of Mahan Dal, announced a poll alliance with the small party active in western UP.

“I welcome Keshav Maurya ji. We will fight the elections jointly. Rahul ji has given us the task of creating a political atmosphere in which everyone is taken along and all sections of the society are represented,” Priyanka said. “We will contest with full might,” she asserted.

Predictably, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which desperately wants to ensure that it does not lose too many of the 71 constituencies it won in 2014, has reacted with disdain in public. But its growing concern at Priyanka Gandhi Vadra catching eyeballs, time and space in the media, especially Television, is manifest in even casual conversations.

“Television has been Modi Ji’s turf and we have milked it for the past five years and more. But suddenly TV channels are devoting considerable time following Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and discussing the impact she may have,” admitted an old BJP hand. While the BJP has largely bought media space, he grudgingly conceded that the Congress was receiving ‘ free publicity’ ever since it was announced that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra would formally hold charge of eastern UP.

The party is divided on how to counter the threat posed by her. While knives are clearly being sharpened to launch vicious attacks as and when she starts moving out and address public meetings, there are doubts that the move might boomerang and fail to yield much political dividend.

Ignoring her is another option that has been discussed, confide BJP insiders. But the thinking is to evolve a strategy as and when she slips. BJP leaders believe that while she possibly has a better command over Hindi, she eventually may not prove to be much of an orator.

“Election rallies require rousing speeches, sharp barbs, an ability to get the crowd to laugh and rage – and there is no match for Narendra Modi,” says a BJP leader with satisfaction, convinced that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is far too polished to make much of a difference on public platforms.

Another BJP strategy is to belittle her experience and performance in the pocket boroughs of the Congress in Amethi and Rae Bareli. “How many Assembly seats could she win for the Congress,” is what BJP workers have been advised to ask in public in an attempt to play down her impact.

But the worry shows and notwithstanding their stance in public, on Monday Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath abandoned a review meeting with district magistrates to huddle with senior party leaders following the six-hour road show in Lucknow by Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.

Says Alok Kumar Rai of the Faculty of Management Studies at BHU (Varanasi), “The strategy of playing down Priyanka Gandhi may actually have the opposite effect.” The attack on the dynasty, say observers, is stale and weak and the other approach, of saying that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has been inducted to cover up the failure of her brother, may actually enhance her public stature.

By all reckoning, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s entry into UP politics seems to have upset all political applecarts, at least for now. Keshav Dev Maurya of Mahan Dal (right), a small party in western Uttar Pradesh, announced on Wednesday that it would contest the election in alliance with the Indian National Congress. He is seen in this picture with Jyotiradiya Scindia ( left) and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra

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Partners again: Pragmatic compulsions push BJP into making up with estranged ally Shiv Sena

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The seat sharing deal between BJP and Shiv Sena ends over four years of public bickering between old allies, stemming from BJP’s unwillingness to settle for junior partner status in the 2014 Maharashtra assembly polls. Both parties fought separately and BJP came on top winning 122 seats against Shiv Sena’s 63. Later, Sena joined the state government but its resentment at not being the dominant partner showed, as it continued hurling barbs at BJP.

Sena’s barbs would have hurt BJP more than the opposition’s because both parties’ bases overlap significantly. Yet both needed each other and this kept the alliance in place. The seat sharing deal with Sena is an acknowledgment by BJP that the downside risks of fighting Lok Sabha elections without its ally-cum-foe are too forbidding to ignore. A similar situation forced BJP to part with 17 seats for JD(U) in Bihar. In making peace with former critics like Uddhav Thackeray and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, BJP appears to have concluded that 2019 is too close to call.

Anti-incumbency and the newfound resolve among opposition parties to prevent division of their vote could be behind BJP’s mellowing, as it shores up alliances through generous seat sharing arrangements. In Maharashtra, Congress and NCP are reviving their alliance and reportedly wooing smaller parties led by Prakash Ambedkar, Raju Shetti and Raj Thackeray. Recall that the Congress-NCP alliance won three successive assembly elections before being felled by the Modi wave of 2014. BJP may rue the surrender of gains it made vis-a-vis the Sena in Maharashtra but coalition arithmetic demands such sacrifices.

In the 1990s it was BJP that propped up Nitish after his split with Lalu Prasad. The investment paid handsome dividends when the JD(U)-BJP coalition stormed to power in Bihar in 2005. In 2017, when JD(U) was again on a weak wicket, BJP played a masterstroke to woo it back. As a result, NDA may fare better in Bihar after the lashing in the 2015 assembly polls. BJP president Amit Shah had preferred a maximalist approach to politics earlier, but that is taking a backseat now due to pragmatic compulsions. Recall that the north-east was also won through alliances. Both BJP and Shiv Sena have an opportunity to put the past behind them. But selling the alliance to voters after Sena’s incessant criticism will be a tricky proposition.

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