By Sagarneel Sinha
The Congress, despite facing internal opposition, decided to ally with the AIUDF of Badruddin Ajmal before the Assam assembly elections to dethrone BJP from power. The grand old party, however, failed to dislodge the saffron party from power. The dissensions, which somehow got silent keeping in mind the unity of the party during the election campaign in March this year started appearing, as expected, after the defeat. Leaders like Rupjyoti Kurmi, the party’s prominent tea tribe face and Sushmita Dev, the party’s prominent leader in the Barak Valley, left the party. So, the Congress party’s decision to break its alliance with AIUDF should not be a big surprise.
Although the grand old party cited AIUDF MLAs praising chief minister Himanta Bishwa Sarma and his saffron government as the major reason for the breakup, this isn’t the actual reason. The communal image of AIUDF, despite allying with the so-called secular Congress, didn’t change among the Assamese voters, who are dominant in Upper Assam. Importantly, the Assamese voters are not only concentrated in Upper Assam as the popular narrative goes, their votes are also significant in determining the electoral results in Central Assam, Lower Assam and also in North Assam.
Not to forget that the Assamese section has often viewed Congress as a facilitator of the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants to strengthen its Muslim vote bank. But, there was a lack of a proper alternative against the Congress. During the two-term governments of AGP, the state saw complete degradation of law and order issues. More than this, it was former chief minister Tarun Gogoi who through his development and peace efforts made the state a stronghold of the grand old party. However with the rise of Narendra Modi and his subsequent massive victory at the centre in 2014, the state got an alternative against the Congress in the form of BJP, which went out to dethrone Gogoi’s government in the state in 2016.
In its desperation to defeat the BJP, Congress tried to revive its old bitter past by allying with AIUDF, a party thought to be primarily formed to protect the interests of illegal immigrants. The leaders of the party even failed to notice that Ajmal’s party was slowly losing its foothold among the Muslims, who were polarising behind the Congress as a result of BJP’s rising strength both at the centre and the state. This trend was witnessed in the rural body polls held in 2018.
Later in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Ajmal, aware of his party’s declining strength, decided to put candidates only in 3 seats, where his party won in 2014. In the rest of the seats, AIUDF supported Congress. Despite this, neither Congress nor the AIUDF gained much with BJP sweeping the polls by winning 9 seats out of 14. AIUDF failed to retain two of its seats with only Ajmal winning from his traditional stronghold Dhubri seat and Congress getting 3 seats as it got in 2014. In the recent elections, both Congress and AIUDF gained only 3 seats each as the grand old party didn’t perform well in areas where Assamese and indigenous communities are dominant.
The Congress party nationally is in a dilemma. Despite its all-out attack against the BJP under Modi, the grand old party isn’t gaining much electorally. The saffron party under Modi remains popular. The party, which was once labeled only as a party of so-called upper castes, has been successful in establishing its stronghold among the backward castes, clubbed together as OBCs, and also has been increasing its foothold among the Dalits, a feat which once was completely thought to be impossible. Modi’s successful welfare schemes aimed to provide support to the poor and the needy section and BJP giving prominence to the backward castes and Dalits in the party and at the government levels is helping itself to shed its so-called upper caste image. This was seen in this year’s Modi government’s big cabinet expansion and reshuffle.
The desperate grand old party eager to taste the power again is now trying to ally with other parties, who often had been in loggerheads with it in the past. AIUDF was also a major rival of the Congress. After its breakup with AIUDF, Congress hopes that Akhil Gogoi’s Raijor Dal may try to explore an adjustment, if not an alliance, with the party in the upcoming by-elections of five assembly seats, where Assamese and indigenous voters have a significant influence.
By allying with AIUDF, the grand old party in Assam got nothing. It alienated the Assamese and indigenous communities. On the other hand, it gave oxygen to Ajmal’s declining party. Congress has only hurt its own image. It won’t be easy to shed the image of the pro-Muslim party. In fact, at one time AGP after severing its alliance with the BJP had even tried to ally with AIUDF to defeat the Congress. It’s now well known that AGP later slowly lost its own ground with BJP getting support from Assamese and indigenous communities, the same communities who were once voters of AGP. The political developments of Assam should be a lesson for the grand old party that strategies aimed only at forging alliances with lesser rival parties to dethrone bigger rival BJP won’t work. (IPA Service)