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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Assam Cong decides to split ties with AIUDF over ‘praise for BJP’

Reacting to the development, AIUDF’s Aminul Islam said it was a very “immature” decision by the Congress, and a step that would “ultimately benefit the BJP”.

Written by Tora Agarwala | Guwahati |
Updated: August 31, 2021 12:24:36 pm
Congress leader and Lok Sabha MP Gaurav Gogoi Wednesday said it was time for the Congress “to be independent of the Mahajot”.

Citing the All-India United Democratic Front’s (AIUDF) “continuous and mysterious praise” for the BJP, the Congress in Assam Monday announced that it will sever ties with its Mahajot alliance partner, which it had paired up with in January 2021 ahead of the Assembly elections.

The resolution was passed after a four-hour core committee meeting of the party in Guwahati on Monday afternoon. A communique from Assam Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) said that it was “unanimously decided that AIUDF can no longer remain an alliance partner of Mahajot” as its “behaviour and attitude in relation to BJP party” had “baffled” the members of the Congress.

“The AIUDF leadership’s and senior members’ continuous and mysterious praise of the BJP party and the Chief Minister has affected the public perception of the Congress party,” the statement said, adding that an intimation would be sent to the All India Congress Committee (AICC) on the matter. It said the high command would take a decision on the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), another Mahajot partner which has in the last few months expressed its reluctance to remain with the alliance.

The Mahajot — a grand alliance of six parties including MP and perfume baron Badruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF, CPI, CPI (M), CPI (ML) and Anchalik Gana Morcha led by the Congress — was announced ahead of the Assembly elections in March in a bid to “save Assam” from the BJP. Later, Bodo leader Hagrama Mohilary’s BPF also joined the alliance.

Reacting to the development, AIUDF’s Aminul Islam said it was a very “immature” decision by the Congress, and a step that would “ultimately benefit the BJP”. “The only way we can edge out the BJP in Assam is by the smaller parties allying,” he said.

In the run up to the Assembly elections, the Congress’s decision to align with old rival AIUDF — which enjoys a large support base amongst Bengali-origin Muslims — was constantly attacked by the BJP in its campaign. The saffron party said that the alliance would promote “illegal migration”, a hot-button topic in Assam politics. On May 2, when the results were announced it was the BJP-led NDA that won 75 seats and the Mahajot won 50 (Congress secured 29 seats, AIUDF won 16, BPF four and the CPI(M) one).

While the Congress’s official reason for dumping the AIUDF pertains to the latter’s praise of the BJP (one example is how, in July, AIUDF legislator Sirajuddin Ajmal had reportedly complimented Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s work), conversations with several Congress leaders implied that there could be more to the decision.

Speaking to The Indian Express on Monday, Congress leader and Lok Sabha MP Gaurav Gogoi said that he had made the statement “thinking of the future of the party.” “Now the time has come for the party to consolidate, rebuild and expand.” Prior to the official APCC statement, Gogoi Wednesday had told reporters that it was time for the Congress “to be independent of the Mahajot”.

According to sources in the Congress, grassroots party workers were especially unhappy with the alliance with AIUDF. “When I went to campaign in the Hindu-dominated areas, I did feel a bit of resentment,” said a Congress leader from Upper Assam, requesting anonymity, “Many said voting for me was as good as voting for Ajmal. Naturally, many of our party workers did not like it.”

Earlier this month, Sushmita Dev — one of the Congress’s most prominent Assam faces — left the party to join the Trinamool Congress. While Dev did not give any reason for her resignation, rumours of her being unhappy had surfaced in February over seat-sharing with AIUDF in the Barak Valley districts in southern Assam.

Another Congress politician from Lower Assam, requesting anonymity, said that they should “have never allied with the AIUDF in the first place” and that the “alliance had cost them”. “There were many in our party who did not want to ally, but the few who did were so insistent and that is why the high command got influenced as well,” he said.

He added that the alliance had not really made a big difference electorally either. “We anyway have a base in Lower Assam — so even without the AIUDF support we would have been alright,” he said.

Lower Assam constituencies are dominated by the Bengali-origin minority community, while Upper Assam, which lies at heart of state’s ethnic sub-nationalism, are represented by the “indigenous” Assamese and caste-Hindu vote

Gogoi, however, said that the alliance had been “beneficial”. “I was a supporter of the alliance formation prior to the election. The fracture in the votes used to benefit the BJP. And that’s what the alliance managed to remedy. But now, since no big elections are imminent, it is time for us to focus inwards and strengthen the party.”

Bypolls to at least five constituencies (Tamulpur, Gossaigaon in Bodoland, and Mariani, Majuli, Thowra in Upper Assam) are scheduled in the next couple of months.

AIUDF’s Islam said that they did not require the “Congress’s support” to run their party. “We will continue working for the people of Assam, and contest in at least two-three seats in the upcoming by polls.”

On the Congress’s allegation that the AIUDF has been “praising the BJP”, Islam said that “only one AIUDF politician had complimented the CM”. “But at least two Congress MLAs have left the party to join the BJP. What do they have to say to that?” he asked.

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