By Sagarneel Sinha
The upcoming assembly polls in Assam are primarily going to be a fight among alliances. The ruling BJP led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) includes Assam Gana Parishad (AGP), United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL) and Gana Suraksha Party led by Lok Sabha MP Naba Sarania. Two of its previous tribal partners — Ganashakti Party and Tiwa Aikya Manch — already have merged with the BJP. On the other side, there is the Grand Alliance led by the main opposition Congress. The other constituents include AIUDF, CPI, CPI(M), CPI(ML)(L) and Anchalik Gana Mancha (AGM) — a new regional party led by notable journalist and Rajya Sabha MP Ajit Bhuyan.
However, the political game won’t be only between NDA and Grand Alliance — as there would also be a Third Front available to the voters. The Third Front consists of Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) and Raijor Dal. Both are new regional parties formed by influential organizations like All Assam Students Union (AASU), Assam Jatiyotabadi Yuba Chhatra Parishad (AJYCP), Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti on the backdrop of anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) sentiments with a strong flavour of Assamese regionalism.
It’s a known fact that Assamese regionalism has always had a strong influence on the society and politics of the state. The AJP-Raijor Dal alliance wants to utilize these regional sentiments in their favor to score good points in their debut election. It is expected that the regional alliance would have its influence particularly in areas where the Assamese speaking population is dominant. The Assamese speaking population primarily dominates Upper Assam — which has 43 assembly seats. Assamese are also concentrated in North Assam — which accounts for 16 seats. Apart from this, a section of the community is also found in parts of Lower Assam. Not only this, AJP and Raijor Dal are already in talks with the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) — mainly concentrated in the Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR), which has 12 assembly seats.
The regional alliance is likely to eat into a section of anti-CAA votes dealing a big blow to the grand old party — which already has been defensive in Assamese dominant areas for its decision to ally with AIUDF, a Muslim communal party, regarded by the Assamese and tribal communities as a party representing the interests of the illegal immigrants. At a time when there is a likelihood of Congress losing a section of Assamese votes for its alliance with AIUDF, the AJP-Raijor Dal alliance is expected to make it more difficult for the grand old party by eating a portion of the anti-CAA votes. It may also dent the Congress + AIUDF alliance by taking a small portion of its Muslim vote bank.
It is not that the AJP-Raijor Dal alliance would only hurt the chances of the Congress but it also has the probability to hurt the NDA. The regional combination is particularly expected to damage the electoral calculations of AGP — the regional party which once was dominant in the state and also came to power twice by defeating the Congress. Already Pabindra Deka, one of the founding members of AGP and an MLA of the Patarkuchi constituency falling under Lower Assam, has joined the AJP.
Importantly, BJP has expanded its base in the state by eating into AGP’s base. So, both AGP and BJP’s voter base, more or less, share quite similar anti-Congress and Assamese regional sentiments. This explains BJP’s fear that a section of its Assamese base may also shift towards AJP. Having said that, BJP is expecting to compensate it by getting a large share of the tribals — who account for around 13 per cent of the state’s population. Not to forget that tribals have their own views quite different from that of the Assamese community.
To negate the influence of the regional alliance, both the Congress and the BJP led NDA are not sitting quietly and trying all their efforts to side with the Assamese sentiments. Rahul Gandhi’s recent comments in the Sivasagar rally that if Congress comes to power it won’t allow CAA in the state point towards the grand old party’s attempts to negate the influences of AJP-Raijor Dal alliance and its own decision to ally with AIUDF. On the other hand, BJP is also attempting to win the Assamese with prime minister Narendra Modi visiting the state twice in less than a fortnight to launch various development projects, distribute land pattas to landless indigenous communities and his speeches primarily highlighting popular Assamese cultural icons like 15th-century Bhakti saint Sankardev and brands of the state like Tea — the pride of Assam, which also plays a major part in state’s economy.
Although the alliance comprising the two regional parties — AJP and Raijor Dal — is yet to prove mettle in their debut election, both the ruling BJP led NDA and the main opposition Congress-led Grand Alliance are in no mood to take it lightly. (IPA Service)