By Ashis Biswas
In Assam, Chief Minister Mr Himanta Biswa Sarma, responding to fresh charges of corruption from the opposition, has launched a sharp counter attack specially targeting the Congress party in the pre-poll campaign for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Assam unlike in other states, appears to be slightly better placed than its rivals, somewhat helped by a continuing lack of cohesion within a divided opposition.
The BJP has kicked off with a high-pitch campaign seeking a polarisation among voters along communal lines, its leaders tearing into Congressmen for what is described as their old ‘policy of weak-kneed appeasement vis-à-vis the Muslims’. The recent Congress Working Committee(CWC) statement calling for an end to the conflict at Gaza between battling Israeli forces and the armed Muslim Hamas group, has provided the BJP yet another stick to thrash the opposition with .
While Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi has emphatically outlined India’s support for Israel following the attack on its territory by Hamas, making no concessions to pro-Palestine sentiments, the CWC’s appeal mentioned the long standing grievances of the beleaguered 2.3 million strong largely Muslim population on Gaza strip. They have been living under a harsh Israeli occupation army for years on end.
In the process, Mr Modi in effect reversed the traditional non aligned thrust of India’s foreign policy towards the enduring Arab-Israeli conflict, without any consultation at any level. Several days later on October 12, India’s MEA spokesman, obviously thinking of a possible negative impact on the large bloc of Muslim nations, redressed the balance by reaffirming GOI”s old support for the Palestinian struggle.
This was a rare instance of the BJP’s temporary retreat from the first utterly one-sided pro-Israeli statement from Prime Minister Modi, its fast evasive footwork undoubtedly influenced by the sober Congress stand. Congress reaction has followed an expected pattern with the CWC reiterating India’s earlier commitment of sympathy and support for Palestinians
Not that such subtle tactical shifts make much difference in Assam during the pre-poll campaign phase. Led by Mr Sarma, the state BJP consistently outdoes even its own Central leadership, in attacking the opposition.
One example: while the BJP condemned Congress once again for surrendering to Muslim vote-bank considerations over the West Asian conflict — with leaders like Mr Rajyavardhan Rathore leading a strong charge — it was left to the BJP in Assam to point out that the Congress statement was no different from the sentiments expressed by Pakistani leaders
The ploy proved effective in that even Sarma’s critics were forced to admit that by unexpectedly raising the level of the bitter debate in the pre-election phase, the state BJP drove the opposition into a corner. Congress leader Mr Gaurav Gogoi made an effective reply, pointing out how former BJP Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had continued with the non aligned foreign policy formulated by Congress. He had put on record India’s continued support for the struggle of Palestinians for their own internationally recognised territory.
But hardline BJP leaders in Assam or elsewhere were not impressed by Mr Gogoi’s factually correct counter. ‘ Everyone knows that the present day BJP, while offering lip service to leaders like the late Vajpayee or the still living Mr L.K. Advani, has unceremoniously abandoned their earlier style of functioning, with its scrupulous adherence to the pluralistic norms of behaviour in and out of parliament or in official policy-making’ a senior party leader in West Bengal said. Mr. Gogoi was hardly naïve about this, he added.
As for the much discussed opposition consolidation to be achieved under the aegis of the new I.N.D.I.Alliance, not much progress has been reported in Assam. The state-based TMC suggested that seat adjustments talks with Congress and the non BJP parties should begin, but there has been no movement on te part of INDIA constituents though they know that the BJP is Battle ready.
Unfortunately, the state Congress remains divided into bitterly wrangling factions, with senior leaders like Mr Bhupen Bora embroiled in inner party squabbles. The minority-based All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) led by Mr Badruddin Ajmal MP, had attempted to open talks over seat adjustments with Congress, but the latter has shown no interest so far.
Despite his best efforts to emerge as the tallest Muslim leader in the NE region, Mr Ajmal has over time lost some influence and following in recent years, according to his critics. The decline in the AIUDF’s fortunes have been amply reflected in the party’s defeats in recent elections.
Smaller parties like Raisor Dal and Asam Jatiya Parishad oppose the BJP but are no part of a broad larger alliance as yet. Interestingly, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which set its footprint in Assam some time ago by winning a ward in the Guwahati Municipal polls, has managed to wean away Mr, Kamal Medhi, formerly a leader of the Raisor Dal.
With top AAP leaders including Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal actively involving themselves in the Assam campaign, local party leaders are confident that its crusade against high level corruption and anti people policies of the BJP will appeal to new, young voters and job aspirants in the region as a whole.
A section of Congress leaders favoured the idea of welcoming senior leaders and workers of other opposition parties to join their ranks at a public ceremony only days ago. Some leaders had hoped to rope in a clutch of Asam Gana Parishad leaders. This would have been a major setback for the BJP, of which the AGP is a strong ally.
Unfortunately, except for second rank, local area leaders from a few other parties, no one of significant weight or repute joined Congress, to the ill-concealed disillusionment of Congressmen.
However, as the pre-poll campaign continues, opposition leaders remain hopeful that by the time the polls arrive, a broad anti-BJP political platform with its own specific political programmes and projects for common people will be in place. (IPA Service)