January 22, 2020
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Small Is Beautiful

ASSAM: Strength of the house: 126

Small Is Beautiful
IN Assam, the electorate often alternates its preference between the Asom Gana Parishad (agp) and the Congress. The anti-incumbency factor against the agp, and the fact that the contest will now be triangular, gives the Congress an edge.

Yet CM Prafulla Kumar Mahanta is pulling out all stops to make a determined bid to return to power. Having ruled out an alliance with the bjp just a day before the Tehelka exposé, Mahanta has launched an offensive against the Centre’s "discrimination" of Assam and has simultaneously started wooing smaller parties for both pre- and post-poll tie-ups. Supporting him currently are the cpi, the cpi(m), the United People’s Party of Assam and the United Minorities Front (umf). "The Centre has been unfair to Assam in respect of financial assistance," Mahanta told Outlook. "It has not reimbursed our security-related expenditure nor has the 10th Finance Commission been fair to us."

The Congress, on the other hand, has traditionally banked upon Muslim and tea garden votes. While the latter remains committed to the Congress, it is the minority voters who keep the party on tenterhooks till the last moment. The Congress hopes to net a sizeable slice of the Muslim vote (nearly 30 per cent), but the presence of umf, a party that claims to represent both the Muslims and the linguistic minority (read Bengalis), is a complicating factor.

In the past, the umf has eroded the Congress vote without winning too many seats itself. The ruling agp has thus scored a tactical point by tying up with it. To ensure that the anti-Congress, anti-bjp votes do not split, Mahanta has come to an understanding (but one-upmanship between the Centre and the state precluded an accord) with the militant Bodo Liberation Tigers, and hopes to win back the support of the All Bodo Students Union (absu). This could ensure Mahanta the absu’s formidable support in at least 15 constituencies. The Congress thinks such adjustments won’t take the agp anywhere. Says Assam pcc chief Tarun Gogoi: "Even if they tie up with smaller parties, the agp’s own house is in total disorder." The state bjp, projecting itself as the best alternative to a corrupt Congress and an inefficient agp, is on the backfoot post-Tehelka, deprived as it is now of its usp. The triangular nature of the contest means the real picture will emerge once the poll dates are announced, different alliances are firmed up, and the campaign takes on a feverish pitch.
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