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Sunday, July 03, 2022

How the Congress lost Assam

If the party had opted for a grand alliance including the Assam Jatiya Parishad and Raijor Dal with Akhil Gogoi as the face, the result may have been different

May 12, 2021 7:27:17 pm
Congress leader Gaurav Gogoi (Facebook/@gauravgogoiasm)

Written By Sandeep Pandey and Divesh Ranjan

In the recent assembly elections in Assam, it turns out that the Mahajot alliance led by Congress could have defeated the BJP if it had allied with the Assam Jatiya Parishad and Raijor Dal. In 14 seats, the Mahajot and AJP-RD together polled more votes than the BJP-led Mitrajot — the Mitrajot won 75 seats whereas the Mahajot got 50 and the RD one seat. Not surprisingly, the Congress is blaming the AJP-RD alliance for splitting the anti-BJP or secular vote and helping the BJP win office. Himanta Biswa Sarma, now the Chief Minister of Assam, had reportedly said during the elections that his party encouraged the formation of AJP and RD to split the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protestors’ votes.

The leaders who formed AJP and RD, Lurinjyoti Gogoi and Akhil Gogoi, respectively, were at the forefront of anti-CAA protests. In fact, Gogoi has been in jail since December, 2019 on charges of sedition and under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. Many organisations including the All Assam Students Union, which originally led the movement during 1979-1985 on the issue of infiltration of foreigners into Assam and entered into an Assam Accord with the then Rajiv Gandhi government, were protesting against the CAA as they felt it violated the spirit of Assam Accord. However, the alliance of 70 organisations led by Akhil Gogoi’s Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti was the aggressive face of the protests. Gogoi, the only leader to be jailed for so long because of anti-CAA protests, had become a real political threat to the BJP government. In a letter written from jail last year, he had appealed for unity of AASU, Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad, KMSS, Forum against CAA, civil society of Assam, students, people’s organisations, tribal organisations, national organisations, crusading writers-intellectuals and common citizens of Assam to run a movement against the government. The Congress was hardly in the picture then.

The popular sentiment on the streets was for a new movement to dislodge the BJP from power. Gogoi was its natural choice as leader since he was the most prominent face of the anti-CAA protests. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the KMSS-led alliance of 70 organisations was the avant-garde in 2019 just like the AASU during 1979-85.

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Come the assembly elections, as Gogoi was in jail, the Congress took the lead in calling for an anti-CAA alliance and decided to take the All India United Democratic Front as a partner. This upset Gogoi who described the AIUDF as a communal party. Hiren Gohain, a prominent public intellectual and Gogoi’s mentor, did not agree and resigned as advisor to RD. It’s a matter of debate whether the AJP-RD position on the AIUDF was a wise one.

That said, the Congress, instead of blaming the AJP-RD alliance for the defeat of Mahajot, ought to reflect if it should have been large-hearted and declared Gogoi the CM candidate of the opposition grand alliance. The entire dynamics of electoral battle would have dramatically altered in that case. A number of people who participated in the anti-CAA protests but voted for the BJP in the end would have remained with an alliance whose CM candidate was the most prominent anti-CAA protestor.

Gogoi was initially thinking of contesting from two seats — Sibsagar and Mariani. However, he dropped the idea of contesting from the second seat because his presence would have divided the anti-BJP votes. The Congress candidate eventually won the seat by a margin of 2,446 votes. The Congress did not show the same magnanimity in Sibsagar, which ultimately Gogoi won. Let’s also not forget that the Tarun Gogoi government had jailed (Akhil) Gogoi after accusing him of being a Maoist.

Gogoi’s victory in Sibsagar has not gone unnoticed. Himanta Biswa Sarma, Gogoi’s senior in Cotton College, made a caustic comment that he hopes Akhil would now abide by the Constitution and not resort to unparliamentary politics. The reality is Gogoi has fought all his life to uphold constitutional values while the people in power have blatantly violated democratic principles.

Pandey is Vice President of Socialist Party (India) and Ranjan is a political analyst

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