April 07, 2020
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Achilles And The Tortoise

Anti-incumbency, a divided BJP and ULFA threats to the AGP could ensure a Congress victory

Achilles And The Tortoise
The BJP top brass has seemingly bungled in clinching a last-minute tie-up with the increasingly unpopular Asom Gana Parishad (agp). Formalised exactly a month before the polling date, it has already run into trouble with a large section of the state BJP opposing it for fear of being swept aside by the anti-incumbency wave that the agp is facing. The winner in this situation could well be the Congress.

While central BJP leaders have decided to go with the agp led by chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, several district units of the bjp have quit in disgust. The rebels felt that the BJP stood a better chance in the polls if it went alone. They point out that the BJP voteshare had increased from a mere 1.07 per cent in 1985 to 30.56 per cent in 1996 although its seat share has never gone beyond 10 in a house of 126. A section of the BJP state leadership— with the controversial former dig, Hiranya Bhattacharyya, in the lead—has dubbed the agp-BJP pact as a sellout and has quit. They have also fielded nearly 60 rebel candidates in BJP strongholds.

From the agp’s point of view, however, the alliance makes sense. Mahanta told Outlook: "For an economically backward state like Assam, a friendly party in power at the Centre is very essential. Moreover, the Congress is the common enemy."

And with the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) targeting the candidates of the AGP-BJP combine, things have been further complicated. Already, 17 political workers of the AGP-BJP, including a BJP candidate, have been killed in violence unleashed by the ulfa since May 1. By contrast the militants have left the Congressmen more or less alone. Security agencies have identified around 150 candidates for the assembly elections as "most vulnerable" to ULFA attacks. They say that of these 150 vulnerable candidates, as many as 138 belong to the AGP-BJP alliance—an indication of the mood on the ground.

Branding the AGP-BJP combine "communal", the insurgent outfit has made it clear that it will not allow chief minister Mahanta to come back to Dispur, the state’s administrative capital. It has justified the violent campaign by accusing the BJP of spreading the "venom of communalism" in the Assamese society. The ULFA, referring to the AGP in its mouthpiece Freedom, says: "The people now feel that these local collaborators, who cooperate with the Indian communal forces, should be dumped in such a manner that history would have little chance even to condemn them." In a call to the ‘people’, ULFA has said that if the Assamese society "fails to nip these evil forces in the bud" they will give it a communal colour just like the rest of India.

Sitting pretty is the Congress which is banking more on the negative voting against the AGP rather than any constructive policy promises of its own. APCC president and chief minister hopeful Tarun Gogoi, however, disagrees. "People know that we have a clear blueprint for the economic development of the state and I am confident of coming back to power with a comfortable majority." It is, of course, helped by the fact that in Assam, the people have alternated between the AGP and the Congress since 1985.

If the Congress has a disadvantage, it is the lack of an accepted state leader and a number of rebels. Even though Gogoi is supposed to be in-charge, his rivals within the party could create complications in the post-poll scenario. There is yet another angle. The Nationalist Congress Party, thanks to Sangma, is contesting 108 seats and is likely to create a few upsets in the lower Assam districts.

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