New in the Northeast | A political shift across states, and a film festival row

  • With Manik Saha replacing Biplab Deb in Tripura, four former Congress leaders are heading BJP-led governments in the region. This, and two films at Cannes in France that caused controversy back in Assam 
A former Congress leader, Saha’s rise within the BJP, a party which he joined in 2015, has been quick. (Twitter/Biplab Kumar Deb) PREMIUM
A former Congress leader, Saha’s rise within the BJP, a party which he joined in 2015, has been quick. (Twitter/Biplab Kumar Deb)
Published on May 16, 2022 07:32 PM IST
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In the Northeast, former Congressmen head BJP governments 

On Sunday, Manik Saha took oath as Tripura’s new chief minister, replacing Biplab Kumar Deb who resigned a day earlier. The 69-year-old dentist-turned-politician will head the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government in the state, of which Indigenous Peoples’ Front of Tripura (IPFT) is also a part.

With assembly polls due in nine months, Saha, a Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament (MP) who was heading the BJP’s state unit before his elevation to the top post, will have a tough task to iron out differences within the party, sort issues with the IPFT, and try and outdo the Trinamool Congress, the Congress, Left parties and indigenous fronts such as the TIPRA Motha to ensure another win for the saffron party.

A former Congress leader, Saha’s rise within the BJP, a party which he joined in 2015, has been quick. Incidentally, with his elevation, he becomes the fourth former Congress leader in the Northeast who joined the saffron party in the past few years and is now heading a BJP-led government in the region.

This trend of former Congress leaders heading BJP governments in the Northeast started almost two decades ago in August 2003 when then chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh, Gegong Apang, resigned from his party, the Arunachal Congress, and switched to the BJP along with most Congress Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs). This was the first time that the BJP ruled any state in the Northeast. Apang’s government lasted only eight months.

The second former Congress leader to head a BJP government in the region was also from Arunachal Pradesh, when Pema Khandu, who had joined the Peoples Party of Arunachal (PPA), a few months earlier and was heading the government, quit PPA along with almost all MLAs except one and joined the saffron party in December 2016.

A year later, N Biren Singh, a senior Congress leader and minister in the Okram Ibobi Singh government in Manipur who had joined the BJP in 2016, became head of the first BJP-led government in the state. Earlier this year, despite discontentment from old BJP leaders like Th Biswajit Singh, the party’s central leadership entrusted Biren with the top post again after the BJP emerged as the biggest party in the assembly polls.

In 2021, the BJP came to power for a second consecutive term in Assam. But instead of continuing with old-timer Sarbananda Sonowal — who played a crucial role in the party’s rise in the state and headed its first government — the BJP leadership gave the chief minister's post to Himanta Biswa Sarma, a senior minister in the Sonowal Cabinet, who quit the Congress and joined the saffron party in 2015.

Now with Saha replacing Deb in Tripura, four former Congress leaders are heading BJP-led governments in the Northeast. The saffron party is part of coalition governments in Nagaland and Meghalaya, where it’s not a major partner. The party has one MLA in Mizoram, but it’s not part of the government headed by the Mizo National Front.

Assam movies at Cannes, debates back home

Two movies from Assam have made their way to the Cannes Film Festival in France this year. Boomba Ride, a Mishing language film by Biswajeet Bora, which depicts corruption in India’s rural education system, will be among six movies from the country selected by the Indian government to be showcased at the Marche’ Du Film organised alongside the Cannes Film Festival. The other five movies in this section are Rocketry-The Nambi Effect (Hindi, English and Tamil), Godavari (Marathi), Alpha Beta Gamma (Hindi), Dhuin (Hindi, Maithili) and Tree Full of Parrots (Malayalam).

Marche’ Du Film section at Cannes, which is dubbed “the world’s most inspiring film market”, is an event where professionals associated with the movie industry from across the globe converge every year to discuss different projects and exchange ideas. Around 12,500 participants are expected to take part and nearly 4,000 films and projects from 121 countries will be showcased in 33 locations this year.

The Cannes Film Festival is celebrating its 75th year. India, which will mark 75 years of Independence, is the country of honour at Marche’ Du Film this year. Besides the six movies mentioned earlier, five other unreleased Indian movies will be screened at Olympia Screen in the “Goes to Cannes” section of Marche’ Du Film. These five movies, Baghjan by Jaicheng Zxai Dohutia (Assamese, Moran), Bailadila (Hindi, Chhattisgarhi), Ek Jagah Apni (Hindi), Follower (Marathi, Kannada and Hindi), and Shivamma (Kannada) will be screened on May 22.

This year National Film Development Corporation of India (NFDC-India) is one of the five partners of the “Goes to Cannes” section. None of the 11 Indian movies selected by the Indian government are part of the official selection of movies for the Cannes Film Festival, which has seven sections—In Competition, Un Certain Regard, Out of Competition, Midnight Screenings, Cannes Premiere, Special Screenings and Cinema de la plage. The only Indian movie in the official selection section is Shaunak Sen’s All That Breathes, which is part of Special Screenings.

While the selection of two movies from Assam for the world’s top film festival should have caused celebrations and cheer in the state, the announcements of their names by the Indian government earlier this month have led to debates in the state. Initially, there were reactions on social media about the absence of congratulatory messages from the state government to the makers of the two films and not much media coverage in Assam about the development.

On Saturday, it was revealed that the Assam government will be sending a four-member delegation to the Cannes Film Festival this year. The delegation includes the noted singer and chairman of the Assam State Film (Finance and Development) Corporation, Simanta Shekhar, prominent playback singer, Papon, and two bureaucrats from the cultural department, Laya Madduri and Monidipa Sarma Borkotoki.

This news added more fuel to the debate and netizens questioned why the state government was sending two bureaucrats and a playback singer to Cannes, while it didn’t sponsor the trips of the two filmmakers from the state —Biswajeet Bora and Jaicheng Zxai Dohutia. To add to the controversy, Luit Kumar Barma, producer of Boomba Ride, took to social media to express his discontentment, by stating that the state government didn’t congratulate the team of Boomba Ride, it was sending people unrelated to the movie to Cannes. Director of Baghjan, Jaicheng Zxai Dohutia, said that the state government’s move to send officials to Cannes instead of those who made the two movies representing the state was like “adding salt to wounds”.

On Sunday, Assam Film Development Corporation chairperson Simanta Shekhar clarified that both the movies from Assam are not part of the official selection of the Cannes Film Festival. He said that both Bora and Dohutia had not applied for sponsorship from the state government, but since the matter has now been made public, some help would be provided to both filmmakers to attend the festival. 

He disclosed that the two bureaucrats will take part in discussions with filmmakers from across the globe on shooting locations in Assam and facilities offered for shootings. Shekhar also said that Papon was selected to be part of the delegation as he’s a well-known name in Bollywood and would be able to interact with filmmakers and producers from the rest of India who are present at Cannes.

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    Utpal is an assistant editor based in Guwahati. He covers all eight states of North-East and was previously based in Kathmandu, Dehradun and Delhi with Hindustan Times .

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