The elections to Assam’s state assembly are to be conducted before May 31, 2021. With not more than eight months before the state heads to polls next year, the political climate in the largest and jugular North-eastern state is getting charged up. While the BJP is well poised to once again return to power in the state, the Congress is floundering to save face, and in its absolute desperation, has now taken to align with the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), an Islamist party led by perfume-baron Badruddin Ajmal, and one which has a major foothold in districts of the state which have a sizable Bangladeshi/Muslim population.
Interestingly, former Chief Minister and senior Congress leader Tarun Gogoi is the one who has been vociferously demanding a pre-poll alliance with the AIUDF, and now that the stage is set for the same, he has, to much disappointment of other Congress leaders, remarked, “We are doing the alliance with AIUDF in the greater interest of the people of Assam. If anyone objects, let them do. It’s quite natural that there will be difference of opinions but the Congress core committee wants the alliance and that is what matters.” Much to the dismay of other senior Congress leaders in the state, Gogoi, to further project himself as the sole repository of Congress authority in Assam, said, “In 2011 AICC wanted us to ally with AIUDF. Even Sonia Gandhi wanted and so did Pranab Mukherjee, but I opposed it (and it did not happen).”
The imminent alliance between the Congress and the AIUDF has led to an all-out rift in the Assam Congress leadership, with many senior leaders voicing their opposition to the move, and also rightfully explaining how the proposed alliance will tremendously hurt the prospects of the Grand Old Party in constituencies which are dominated by the indigenous Hindu populations, where the BJP will rest assured sweep the slate clean. Senior Congress functionaries have also decided to write a letter to the Congress high command, seeking the removal of the party’s state president – Ripun Bora, who they say has a tendency to take unilateral decisions.
Tarun Gogoi, who now seems overenthusiastic to align the Congress with the allegedly immigrant-sympathetic AIUDF was himself once a staunch opposer of the said alliance. The Congress, under Tarun Gogoi, did not form an alliance with the AIUDF in the 2006 and 2011 polls, as the former Chief Minister was himself of the view that such an alliance would end up disproportionately hurting the party’s prospects in Hindu-dominated constituencies, apart from it getting completely obliterated in the 27 seats which Upper Assam has to offer.
It is not common knowledge, however, that Tarun Gogoi has been keen on allying with the AIUDF since 2015, as the threat of the BJP snatching his throne loomed largely over the then Chief Minister. Efforts to forge an alliance with the AIUDF for the 2016 polls failed. Prashant Kishor, the data analyst which many people mistake for an election strategist is said to have been himself involved in the process back then, which could not ultimately fructify. Tarun’s son Gaurav Gogoi had met Prashant Kishor in the swearing-in ceremony of Nitish Kumar back in 2015, where he himself invited Kishor to micro-manage the Assam polls for the Congress. In 2015 too, Gogoi was met with opposition from within the party for his endeavours at allying with Ajmal. This time, however, Gogoi is not caving in to pressure, and is writing the Congress’ epitaph in Assam with his own hands.
The letter which is to be sent to the Congress’ top leadership is backed by no less than the Leader of Opposition Debabrata Saikia along with other senior leaders like Pradyut Bordoloi, Bhupen Borah, Rana Goswami and Abdul Khaleque. While they say they have no problem with the party aligning with a “broader coalition of secular and non-BJP forces” such as the Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Bodoland People’s Front and Akhil Gogoi’s Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), they are agitated with the proposed alliance with AIUDF.
The Congress is thus split right in the middle, with the Tarun Gogoi – Ripun Bora faction on one side, and other senior leaders on the other. Such a gigantic rift in the party’s state leadership barely months before the elections is quite telling of how centralisation of decision making in the Congress both in the state and nationally too, end up spelling the death knell for the party. While the Assam Congress is a divided house, the BJP is oiling its machinery as it gets ready to win the election in the state.
Himanta Biswa Sarma, meanwhile, has indicated that he has already started working for the elections, saying, “I am deeply concerned at the way Congress is laying the red carpet and opening its doors to Ajmal, who is a threat to Assam’s culture and identity. So, I will do anything to protect Assam and its people and I have already started my work. The entire opposition will be limited to just about 20 to 22 seats.”
The Congress, by aligning with the AIUDF, is about to shed all its false pretences of being a party which stands with the indigenous people of Assam and one which works for their benefit. In reality, as is quite visible now, the Congress, dictated by Tarun Gogoi and Ripun Bora in the state, is working overtime to have the votes of infiltrators garnered in its favour, even as it alienates whatever genuine voter base it has remaining in Assam. Leaders like Himanta Biswa Sarma, who were lucky enough to get out of the Congress’ mess early on are now scaling new heights with every election. Himanta is bound to foil the Congress’ attempts at resurrection using Bangladeshi votes once again next year.