Asom Gana Parishad in a Fix as General Elections Draw Close

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Asom Gana Parishad in a Fix as General Elections Draw Close

Chetan Bhattarai | February 23, 2019 15:17 hrs

For AGP, it seems there are two options in alliance - either join UPA or NDA - or fight the Lok Sabha polls alone. Given its poor performance in the council polls and the panchayat elections it would be an uphill task for the party to go solo. The party is between the devil and the deep sea.

With Lok Sabha elections round the corner, all the political parties have started their warming up exercises. The regional party, Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), has also started preparations for the Lok Sabha polls. The recently held central executive of the Asom Gana Parishad unanimously decided that they won't be in alliance with parties supporting the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016. But the meeting could not decide on the alliance partners. So a committee has been formed to decide on the partnership. For the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, the AGP has formed a 9-member committee headed by party president Atul Bora. This committee will have a final say on the alliance partner for the Lok Sabha polls.

The core committee headed by Atul Bora has Keshab Mahanta, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, Brindaban Goswami, Phani Bhusan Choudhury, Dr Kamala Kanta Kalita, Birendra Prasad Baishya and Pradip Hazarika. The convenor of this committee is Ramendra Narayan Kalita. All decisions, poll preparations and strategies will be finalized by this 9-member committee.

The AGP had walked out of the coalition government in Assam protesting the controversial bill. Interestingly, the resignations of the three ministers from AGP have not been forwarded to the Governor of Assam till date. There are speculations that the AGP might join back the BJP-led government. Meghalaya chief minister and NDA partner, Conrad Sangma, has been learnt to be initiating the talks to revive the partnership. This was recently disclosed by NEDA (North East Democratic Alliance) convenor and Assam finance minister, Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma.

Speaking to the media Dr Sarma clarified, “At present, we are not in a dialogue with the AGP. But certain quarters like Meghalaya chief minister Konrad Sangma has urged us to re-consider the partnership. This decision can only be taken by the national and the state leadership. It is not my call as I am not involved in it and don't want to get involved. The stand and statement by party president Ranjit Kumar Dass will be ours, too.” On the other hand, AGP president Atul Bora has made it known that he is not aware of the negotiation.

The central executive of the AGP continued for well over 4 hours and it mainly focused on alliance with the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

For AGP, it seems there are two options, either join UPA or NDA or fight the Lok Sabha polls alone. Given its poor performance in the council polls and the panchayat elections it would be an uphill task for the party to go solo. The party is between the devil and the deep sea. The existing vote bank of the party and the money power to contest the polls is also a matter of concern. The AGP might contest in only those constituencies where they have vote banks and that would be 5 to 6 constituencies out of the 14. The central executive discussed on utilizing current resources in only these constituencies.

An alliance with the Congress might be a final nail in the coffin as the party, since its birth, has been fighting tooth and nail against the Congress. This would give the BJP leverage to hammer it during the campaign. Moreover, there is no guarantee that the partnership is going to convert the AGP votes en-masse towards Congress in those seats where it would be supporting the national party. Well, a partnership looks distant as Congress leader Tarun Gogoi and AGP’s founder president, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta have been recently seen sparring in the public on issues ranging from Assam Accord to secret killings; so no point speculating much there.

AGP going back to the BJP will be seen as a betrayal by a large section of the people and by indigenous organizations who have been protesting along with them against the Citizenship Amendment Bill. This will not only hurt the AGP but might force its remaining voters to either side with the Congress or the BJP.

The BJP on the other hand is clear on the partnership with AGP. Most of its BJP party workers are against an alliance with the AGP and don’t want the regional party back. It is also known that the BJP state executive has stated its feelings to the party president Amit Shah during his recent visit to Assam.

Moreover, talking to reporters in Barpeta, Ranjit Kumar Dass, President, BJP Assam had this to say, “The AGP has gone out of the partnership on providing dignity to religious minorities. There is no logic now coming back to the alliance. Plus, our BJP workers don't want them to come back because this issue will remain as this issue is about refugees and not foreigners. Congress killed 855 Assamese people, destroyed the community and burdened Assam with lakhs of Bangladeshi Muslims due to which we lost electoral power in places like Barpeta, Dhubri and Goalpara. We have already lost the lower Assam areas. Leave alone BJP, even Lord Krishna can't save us from this. So, this issue will remain. Till the issue is there AGP can't come back.”

There has been news that the central BJP leadership in Delhi is still keen on partnering with the AGP as it does not want to take any chances. The fear in the central leadership can be understood as they have to fight anti-incumbency this time and don’t want AGP cutting their votes in the name of CAB – fair enough. Though the BJP won Assam handsomely in 2014, bagging 7 out of the 14 seats, they desperately need more seats given the BSP-SP alliance in Uttar Pradesh.

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