GUWAHATI: Unlike in the past, the Assam elections will be fought among coalitions of parties.
To take on the might of BJP, Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL) combine and six political parties led by the Congress, has formed a grand alliance of Opposition. The other parties in it are All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), CPI, CPM, CPI-ML, and regional Anchalik Gana Morcha.
There is also the united front of Asom Jatiya Parishad (AJP), Raijor Dal, and Autonomous State Demand Committee (ASDC). The AJP was floated by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chhatra Parishad while the Raijor Dal was formed by 70 organisations.
Ditched by ally BJP, the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) is now weighing options. BPF chief Hagrama Mohilary on Friday said his party favours a strategic alliance with the anti-BJP forces provided they agree not to contest in the 12 seats in the four districts of Bodoland Territorial Region. Currently, all the seats are held by the party.
“No party can form the next government without our support,” Mohilary asserted. The BPF was a constituent of the previous two Congress governments. It still is a part of BJP-led government but cornered.
The BJP has set a goal of winning “100 plus” of the 126 seats together with allies. But its worries over the coming together of Congress and AIUDF and the birth of AJP and Raijor Dal are palpable.
“The andolankaris (agitationists) have emerged with different names to cause a split of BJP votes. Their goal is to help Congress, which fired on the youth and killed hundreds of them during the Assam Agitation (of the 1980s), win the elections,” Union Home Minister Amit Shah had said in Assam on Thursday, attacking the Congress and the AJP.
The BJP’s Assam president Ranjit Dass believed the party would retain power for its “achievements and activities”.
“The AIUDF-Congress combine may have some relevance in Lower Assam (where Muslims have a sizeable population) but we have just three sitting MLAs there,” Dass said.
He claimed the mindset of Muslims is fast changing. His remark comes against the backdrop of party stalwart and the state’s Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s statement that BJP does not need the votes of “Miyas” (Bengali Muslims) who are “very communal”.
The Bengali Muslims have traditionally voted for the Congress and the AIUDF. The AIUDF is confident the grand alliance will be able to derail the BJP applecart.
“The Congress-AIUDF alliance has made the BJP nervous so much that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah had to come to Assam several times in the past month,” AIUDF chief Maulana Badruddin Ajmal said.
The Congress and the AIUDF never had an alliance between them before. Former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi always opposed it fearing a possible setback in the Assamese-majority Upper and Northern Assam areas where a strong sentiment of Assamese sub-nationalism works. The AIUDF, born after the repeal of Illegal Migrants’ (Determination) Tribunal) Act which was allegedly heavily tilted in favour of the immigrants is seen by many in Assam as the protector of the immigrants.
For the first time in many years, the Congress is going to polls without a leader of the stature of Gogoi who had guided the party to power for three terms on the trot since 2001.
The Congress is flagging the issue of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act or CAA to reap dividends in the polls.
“We (Congress and AIUDF) do not support CAA as it contradicts the Assam Accord. The people of Assam had accepted the Accord brought about by the late Rajiv Gandhi in 1985. But by bringing CAA, they are pushing Assam and the future of the Assamese into a state of danger as far as preservation of local culture and identity is concerned,” Congress leader Bobeeta Sarma said.
The Accord says people, irrespective of their faith, who entered Assam after March 24 (midnight), 1971 have to detected and deported. The NRC of 1951 was updated in the state based on this cut-off date.
Sarma claimed people were fed up with the BJP’s false promises. It had in 2016 promised to drive away the “Bangladeshis” if voted to power.
The AJP too felt the BJP is nervous.
“They are nervous, for they know we will do well in their strongholds of Upper Assam. The region has a lot of tea gardens. We will target 30-40% of the around 40 seats there,” AJP president Lurinjyoti Gogoi said.
Political scientist Akhil Ranjan Dutta of the Gauhati University said the Congress-AIUDF alignment will have an impact on Central Assam.
“The AJP will target the votes of AGP and BJP. I feel they (AJP) will cause damage to both BJP and AGP to some extent. The AASU said it would support the AJP. If they do so, both BJP and AGP will suffer,” Dutta observed.
Given the BJP’s distribution of resources, particularly targeting the tea community, he felt the party would fare well in tea gardens.
“My reading is that Congress-AIUDF will gain in the Parliamentary constituencies of Nagaon and Mangaldoi in Central Assam and Barpeta and Dhubri in Lower Assam,” Dutta added.
Muslims have sizeable populations in all these seats besides Karimganj in the Barak Valley.