By Wasbir Hussain
Bent on snatching a victory in Assam, the BJP has stitched up electoral alliances and is offering a five-party coalition alternative to the Congress that is making a determined bid to hold on to power for the fourth successive time. All four allies of the BJP in Assam are regional political parties, the prominent among them being the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF). While the AGP is a product of the anti-foreigner uprising of the eighties in the state and had been in power twice, the BPF is an offshoot of a violent insurgency, and, has been ruling the autonomous council that is in charge of administration in the western and northern Assam Bodo heartland. The BPF has been ruling the Bodo Council for the past decade, having signed a peace agreement with the government. The two other allies represent the Tiwa and Rabha ethnic groups.
The BJP may have got a head-start with the tie-ups, but is faced with opposition from grass-root workers and supporters over the alliance with the AGP. Street protests, ransacking of some local party offices, and burning of effigies were witnessed. The primary grouse of the party workers is over the BJP’s decision to leave 24 of the 126 Assembly seats to the AGP as part of the poll pact. They obviously believe this election was an opportunity for the party in these 24 seats as well to put up a good performance. The BJP’s best tally had been ten seats in 2006, before it came down to five in the last Assembly polls in 2011. Some aggrieved BJP leaders in the districts who have seen their prospective seats being left in favour of the AGP are planning to contest as independents and are considering coming together under the banner of a new political formation called Trinamool BJP.
The aftershock of this alliance is felt much more in the AGP. In fact, the AGP has split over this issue with some leaders, including a former minister, Thaneswar Boro, forming the AGP Anchalikatabadi Mancha (AGP Regional Forum). This breakaway faction of the AGP is planning to contest at least 50 seats, a development that has the potential to split the regional party’s votes or votes which can be bracketed as anti-Congress. In fact, the revolt in the AGP negates the very purpose of the BJP-AGP alliance which was to consolidate the anti-Congress votes and prevent a split in such votes.
The scale of the revolt in the AGP will impact more on the BJP, being the leading alliance partner that is out to grab power. Even former Chief Minister and founder president of the AGP, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, is unhappy with the nature of the alliance. “I personally feel it is not really an honourable alliance because our party that had been in power in Assam twice has been given only 24 seats to contest,” Mahanta told this writer on Wednesday. He said the unrest within the party rank-and-file over the shape of the alliance was not surprising.
The AGP’s performance is going to be critical for the BJP because every seat will count in the final game of numbers. The BJP has already announced a list of 88 candidates and may contest at least two more seats (the rest have been left for its allies), but around 25 of these seats are actually strongholds of the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) led by Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, a party that has a strong influence among the Muslim settlers who live in large concentrations in several districts. Therefore, if the BJP has to win the polls this time, along with it, its allies, too, would have to bag as many seats as possible to reach the magic figure of 64 in the Assam Assembly.
It would not be a cakewalk even for the BPF, the BJP’s Bodo ally, which had bagged 11 and 12 seats in the 2006 and 2011 Assembly polls respectively. Anti-incumbency aside, the BPF faces a new party as its rival, the United People’s Party (UPP), led by UG Brahma, a former MP and a one-time prominent leader of the influential All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU). To add to the challenge, the ruling Congress has entered into an alliance with the UPP and has left four key seats in favour of the new party. Maulana Ajmal’s AIUDF had surprised everyone by fielding local Bodo candidates in the Bodo Council polls in April last year and winning four of the 40 elective seats. It is likely that the AIUDF will put up candidates for the 4 April and 11 April Assembly polls in the Bodo areas, adding to the BPF’s challenge. Any drop in the BPF’s tally again will impact on the BJP. The bottom-line is that if the ruling Congress is faced with roadblocks, starting with anti-incumbency, the main contender for power, the BJP, too, is faced with huge challenges.
(Wasbir Hussain is a Guwahati-based political commentator and television talk show host)