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Challenging A Political Behemoth

Ahead of the Assembly polls next year, several parties in Assam are striving to come together for a united Opposition alliance


As Assam approaches the Assembly elections next year, the concept of a grand Opposition alliance has surfaced. Mainstream as well as alternate media spaces are now inundated with ideas and strategies about how to defeat the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in Dispur.

The expectation for a grand Opposition alliance started taking shape after the main Opposition, the Congress Party virtually joined hands with the All India United Democratic Front(AIUDF). Recently, a new political party has also been launched by the All Assam Students’ Union and Asom Jatiyatabadi Juva Chatra Parishad. A few more regional parties are expected to crop up with the sole aim of defeating the ruling alliance.

The issue of the Congress PartyAIUDF friendship became the talk of the state as both parties came together to help senior Assamese journalist Ajit Kumar Bhuyan to get elected to Rajya Sabha as an independent candidate. Bhuyan, known for his hardcore Assamese “nationalism”, came close to the Congress Party and AIUDF during outrages against the Centre’s much debated Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 in the Brahmaputra valley.

A series of public demonstrations was observed, even though it was not visible in the Barak valley, where Aasu, AJYCP and the Krisak Mukti Sangram Samity, with many other non-political Assamese-speaking groups, hit the streets to protest against the government initiative to grant Indian citizenship to Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, Christian and Parsi religious migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Friendship calls to the Congress Party were always initiated by AIUDF chief Badruddin Ajmal, a perfume baron turned politician, but it was veteran Congress leader Tarun Gogoi who opposed it. Even after Parliamentarian Ajmal supported the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government in New Delhi, then chief minister Gogoi continued opposing the alliance. Ajmal repeated his call prior to the 2016 Assembly elections too, but once again Gogoi prevented it.

Founded by Maulana Ajmal in October 2005 with a pledge to protect the interests of Bangladeshi Muslim settlers in Assam, soon after the Supreme Court scrapped the Illegal Migrants Determination by Tribunals Act, the AIUDF remains active in state politics. The party won 18 seats in the 2011 Assembly polls. Presently it has 13 legislators in the 126-member state Assembly and one member (Ajmal himself) in the Lok Sabha.

The AIUDF candidates, with support bases among Bangladeshi-origin immigrants, performed relatively well in western and some parts of southern Assam. It emerged as the third largest party in the state Assembly after the BJP (60) and Congress Party (23). The saffron party’s two allies, the Asom Gana Parishad won 14 seats and Bodoland People’s Front won in 12 constituencies.

Assam being the second-largest Muslim-inhabited state in the country, no political party can ignore minority voters. Both the Congress Party and AIUDF remain more dependent on minority vote shares and hence, they seemingly would not take the risk of going it alone in the forthcoming Assembly polls. Three-time chief minister Gogoi admitted that the situation had changed and he wants an alliance with the Ajmalled AIUDF, so that the sizable Muslim votes are not divided.

Terming the BJP as a greater evil and to prevent the party from pursuing divisive politics, Gogoi even emphasised on electoral alliances with the CPI, CPI-M and ethnic outfits for the forthcoming polls scheduled for April-May 2021. He also said that the anti-CAA groups (read Aasu, AJYCP, KMSS, etc) would pave the way for a greater alliance against the ruling coalition.

But not everyone in the Congress Party is happy with the alliance, apprehending that it would only help the BJP to nurture more Hindu-centric voters in the polls. Even the Congress Legislature Party leader Debabrata Saikia, son of former chief minister Hiteswar Saikia, was reluctant to accept the AIUDF as their political ally. Then the idea of a grand alliance comprising everyone, who stands against the BJP, was meticulously floated.

Meanwhile, leaders of the Aasu and AJYCP have jointly launched the Assam Jatiya Parishad, a new regional political party targeting the next Assembly polls. The party is expected to enrol active members from all districts along with various ethnic communities of the state. Its slogan Ghare Ghare Ami (we are in every household) indicates their aim to connect with each family of the state irrespective of caste, creed or religion. The party is understood to field candidates in around 80 seats in the Assembly polls.

It barely warrants mention that the BJP’s ally, the AGP was also formed by then Aasu leaders in 1985 and it even came to power in Dispur defeating the Congress Party. The performance of the AGP-led government was quite poor, and it was uprooted in the next elections. The regional party returned to power, but it faced a humiliating defeat to the Congress Party in the 2001 Assembly polls. AGP leaders came closer to the saffron party in the 2016 Assembly polls and became a partner in the coalition government.

Assam may witness the birth of more political parties with anti-BJP agendas in the coming days. Peasant leader Akhil Gogoi-led KMSS may go for a party if his followers are not entertained by the newly launched AJP. The RTI activist, presently in jail, recently announced that he would contest the Assembly polls. Similarly, Rajya Sabha member Bhuyan is working for a new political party. Many Guwahati-based advocates, journalists and social workers are also dreaming of a party that would ensure the bright future of Assamese people.

The writer is the Guwahati-based Special Representative of The Statesman