February 20, 2020
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It's Love By Half

With Prafulla Kumar Mahanta at the helm, the AGP came to power twice, but now the party he founded is on the verge of a split.

It's Love By Half
Bloody History
Scenes from the 1983 Nellie carnage
It's Love By Half

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.

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