Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The battle for Assam: To be or Not to be

Reproduced from The Morung Express (Ref.)

Towards the end of 2000 Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) realized the need of a national level alliance like many other smaller regional peers from the Sindhu (Indus) to the Sindhu (oceans).
But the honeymoon on the banks of the Brahmaputra was over, sooner than expected. A knot with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) did not benefit AGP. In 2001, the precarious alliance was routed by Congress mercilessly. AGP, since then, have been meticulous with BJP and prospect of its alliance.

In 2006 AGP opted to contest assembly elections on its own. No luck, yet again. Vote share continued to decline for AGP. And in 2009 Lok Sabha polls, AGP’s tally halved from 2 to 1 while BJP doubled from 2 to 4 seats, on 2004 performances. The series of losses compelled AGP to perceive that BJP grew at the cost of them. But, a look back since 2001 only proves that AGP is fast eroding its support among masses, specially in rural and semi-urban belts, and the fall is independent of being with BJP or not.

Though the party officially snapped ties with BJP in 2010, a sinusoid of ‘to-be or not-to-be’ is likely to pop up again in 2011 assembly elections. A larger section in the party feels the need of realigning with the chief opponent of Congress at the center in its battle for the state. "We strongly feel the need for broad opposition unity to install a non-Congress government in Assam. As the main opposition we earnestly appeal to all the opposition parties to unite and challenge the Congress," That is what AGP president Chandra Mohan Patowary said recently.

As we stepped into 2011, things have changed. Grounds have changed. Peoples’ positive perception about Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s governance has changed, more after his government got involved in multi-crore scams of North Cahchar Hills Autonomous Council. Congress party high-command too is aware of this mess. Though they have deployed Digvijay Singh with the charge of Assam affairs, his story-planting abilities might not be sufficient for an easy win for Congress. They have, therefore, oriented Rahul Gandhi poll-ward. Sensing it as a high profile contest, BJP too has put Varun Gandhi with Assam responsibilities. Rahul has kick-started his campaign in his niche audiences like universities, e.g. Assam University at Silchar and is expected to hold more this January. But Congress workers’ confidence on ‘Rahul-magic’ got a deadly blow after Bihar debacle.

On the other hand Varun is playing mild tune so far. He sounds more inclusive, more matured and more accepted this time. 'We are not fighting against the Congress or the AGP but instead fighting against poverty, corruption and for the well being of the downtrodden' – a well-calculated Varun Gandhi said in a public rally in Doomdoma of eastern Assam. Also, Varun, the orator, has been raising illegal immigration as a poll issue right from the beginning. This pretty much falls in the same line with AGP’s ab initio ideology. Possibly, this is one root cause of decline in AGP’s reach to the people as Assam has found this new urban voice against Bangladeshi migration problem. The Gana Parishad needs to introspect, re-identify their natural ally and re-align.

But, it is not just going to be a Gandhi (Rahul) vs. Gandhi (Varun). Assam is also set for another face-off, between Gogoi (Tarun) and Gogoi (Akhil). Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) leader Akhil Gogoi has demonstrated his huge popularity in organizing peoples’ rallies against corruption and mis-governance. The best known stand against construction of massive dams over the Brahmaputra is that of Akhil Gogoi. Farmers have stood behind him in apprehensions of the effects these dams would have on their agricultural lands, villages and environment.

Gogoi government’s links with corruption are nothing rare. Rural development scams and those concerning Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council are still fresh in memory. Though state Congress has been busy advertizing its pro-development policies and their outcomes, it seems people are drowned in anti-incumbency gloom. Employment rate and per capita income among people of Assam is still one of the lowest in India.

In the fight against corruption, illegal immigration from Bangladesh, economic mis-governance and administrative failure, people do not have a lofty trust on AGP too. Previous governments of Prafulla Mahanta were not big successes to chain all these menaces.

Assam is, thus, waiting for a change it deserves. A combined effort is necessary indeed in putting up a stronger case for the change. And not to mention, neither AGP nor BJP can win the case on its own. They have to come together again. They must secure support from popular apolitical faces like Akhil Gogoi. After CAG reports directly pointing fingers at Gogoi government for the widespread corruption, KMSS has gained the moral support of people whereas BJP-AGP got the political advantage. It is up to them how to turn the ‘advantage’ into a ‘match point’. AGP is nowhere close, in rank of money-power, to Congress. BJP still needs local allies as they are not yet the pan-Assam alternative voice. Hence, they must end this dilemma of ‘to-be or not-to-be’ before it is too late.

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