Prafulla Kumar Mahanta has been called many things, including “durdanto premik” (terrific lover) by a woman who once claimed they were secretly married at a Mumbai temple. The bigamy allegations—never confirmed—played its part in the slide in the political fortunes of Mahanta, once a hero who led a six-year-long mass movement against “illegal immigration” in Assam. That phrase, frequently used to describe the undocumented entry of people from Bangladesh, still marks out the most volatile issue in the state, nearly 35 years after signing of the Assam Accord. As things stand, the BJP has totally hijacked that narrative— with a twist, though—from its original sutradhar, the Asom Gana Parishad. Its unifocal plank of restoring Assam to the Assamese had swept the AGP to power twice (1985, 1996), with Mahanta at the helm, but now the party he founded is on the verge of a split. How did it come to this? It’s the elections, silly.
First things first. This week, senior BJP strategist-cum-pointsman Ram Madhav suddenly announced an alliance with the AGP for the Lok Sabha polls. That came as a bolt from the blue for many, not the least party supremo Mahanta, who evidently had no idea about the backroom dealings that brought it about. It was just in January that the AGP had angrily pulled out of the BJP-led government in Assam to protest the now-lapsed Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016. The bill, which envisages extending Indian citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants, had roiled Assam all over again. Indeed, most of the Northeast—here, “illegal foreigner” does not have a religion, it’s only a shorthand for those who are seen to be wresting land or resources from the native-born. The AGP—languishing in the political periphery for years, rejected by voters election after election—spied a chance to water its parched fortunes. And so it was quits with the BJP.
But the BJP knew many AGP leaders were plagued by survival anxiety, never mind their bravado—and zeroed in. Mahanta is angry. Very angry. Living in the BJP’s shadow is not something he was comfortable with. And the anger against the Bill had handed him a chance to restore his primacy, even eye a bigger role in national politics (Assam has 14 Lok Sabha seats). But now, as former comrades-in-arms clash in front of the AGP HQ in Guwahati, the “durdanto premik” must be wondering how to survive this broken relationship.