Alliance in trouble

Print edition : April 28, 2001

The new electoral alliance between the Asom Gana Parishad and the Bharatiya Janata Party sparks dissent in both parties, clearly to the advantage of the Congress(I).

THE Congress(I), the main Opposition party in Assam, is likely to make major gains in the Assembly elections with both the ruling Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party facing revolt in their ranks over the conditions their leaders have accepted for an alliance between the two. While the State BJP has already split, some important AGP leaders have moved to the Congress(I).

Asom Gana Parishad leader and Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta join hands with senior BJP leaders (from right) Rajen Gohain, Narendra Modi, Sunil Shastri and Pyarelal Khandelwal in Guwahati after the two parties reached an electoral understanding. Jayashree Mahanta, MP, is to extreme left.-RITU RAJ KONWAR

Hiranya Bhattacharya, founder-member of the State BJP, resigned from the party in protest against the alliance and floated a new party called the Asom BJP. Hundreds of BJP supporters attended the meeting on April 11 at Nalbari where Bhattacharya resigned in the presence of State party chief Rajen Gohain. Earlier, the party office in Guwahati was ransacked by angry workers. Partymen who had been denied the nomination following the tie-up with the AGP rallied behind Bhattacharya. The central leadership despatched a three-member team to Assam to stem the dissent, but it failed in the mission. The Asom BJP has decided to contest 60 of the 126 seats.

The AGP was faced with a different problem altogether. Led by Pradhan Barua, the party legislator from Jonai, a sizable section of leaders and activists joined the Congress(I) opposing the way Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, party president and Chief Minister, struck the seat-sharing deal. After a week-long tussle over allocation of seats, Mahanta reached an agreement under which the BJP would contest 44 seats, and the AGP and its ally, the All Bodo Students Union, 71 and 11 respectively. It was also decided that the AGP and the BJP would enter into "friendly contests" in 10 of the 44 seats allotted to the BJP. This was opposed by Pradhan Barua as Jonai was one of the constituencies that would see such "friendly" contests. Sericulture Minister Ramendra Narayan Kalita supported Barua's stand. Barua, who has since been expelled from the AGP, is contesting on the Congress(I) ticket.

In Sonitpur district, about 500 AGP members joined the Congress(I), dismissing the electoral understanding with the BJP as a strategy aimed at getting Mahanta re-elected Chief Minister and securing a Cabinet berth at the Centre for his wife Jayasree Mahanta, an MP.

The dissidents may be right in believing that Mahanta, who has been staunchly anti-BJP and has been running the State since 1996 with the help of the Left parties, has changed his strategy to suit his own political ends. The change could be attributed to Mahanta's fear of the growing strength of the Congress(I). Although the Congress(I) won only 34 seats against the AGP's 63 in the 1996 Assembly elections, it won nine of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in the October 1999 parliamentary elections while the AGP failed to win even a single seat. The BJP won two seats. The BJP's tally in the current Assembly is four.

Tarun Gogoi, Assam Congress(I) leader.-RITU RAJ KONWAR

Mahanta claimed that the AGP's electoral understanding with the BJP would enable Assam to secure a better deal from the Centre.

The AGP-BJP move has united several religious and linguistic minority groups, who account for 28 per cent of the State's population. They are determined to defeat the AGP because the party did an about-turn and went right into the BJP's arms, leaving the United Minorities Front (UMF) in the lurch. And adding strength to their efforts is the United People's Party of Assam (UPPA), now known as the Samajwadi Party (SP). Hafiz Rashid Chowdhury, president of the UMF, said that the All Assam Minority Students Union, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, the Nadwa-tut-Tameer, the Linguistic Minorities Forum and other minority groups would back the UMF and the S.P., which would together contest 40 seats.

Minority leaders expect a consolidation of the minority votes against the AGP and the BJP. Chowdhury said that they would make every effort to frustrate the AGP-BJP designs. For that to happen, the UMF and its allies will have to move closer to the Congress(I), which also commands a significant chunk of the minority vote.

The Congress(I) has not entered into an electoral alliance and is contesting all the 126 seats. More or less free from internal squabbles the party has a substantial support base in Assam.

The Congress(I) was defeated in the 1985 Assembly elections, held immediately after the Assam Accord was signed following the violent anti-foreigner agitation between 1979 and 1985. It had an unbroken stint in power (except during the Emergency) in the State since 1952. The Congress(I) returned to power in 1991 and ruled Assam until 1996. Observers believe that the Congress(I), which is projecting State party president Tarun Gogoi as the next Chief Minister, is currently in a comfortable position.

With three MLAs, the Communist Party of India (CPI), which was a coalition partner of the AGP-led government, has pulled out of the alliance. Its Minister Promod Gogoi resigned soon after Mahanta announced the seat-sharing agreement. The CPI initially tried to work out a secular front involving the Congress(I) and other Left parties but backed out as the Communist Party of India (Marxist) ruled out any pact with the Congress(I). Prakash Karat, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member, told a press conference in Guwahati that the Left parties could in no way have a tie-up with the Congress(I) as the party had entered into an alliance with the Trinamul Congress in West Bengal. Karat said that the CPI and the CPI(M) would contest 56 seats under the banner of the People's Front.

Even as the BJP and the AGP finalised their deal, the Samata Party, the BJP's ally in the National Democratic Alliance, decided to contest 32 seats "independently". The National Congress Party (NCP), according to Purno S. Sangma, former Lok Sabha Speaker, has formed a Regional Democratic Alliance (RDA) with the Asom Jatiya Sanmilan, an AGP offshoot, the Asom Gana Sangram Parishad, the Purbanchaliya Lok Parishad and the Janata Dal (Secular). The RDA is contesting 100 seats.

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