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Unable to read popular sentiment, Congress 'failed' to do a Mamata in Assam, defeat BJP

By Sandeep Pandey, Divesh Ranjan* 

In the recently concluded elections in Assam, it turns out that if the votes of Mahajot alliance led by Congress Party and the alliance of Assam Jatiya Parishad and Raijor Dal are combined then they would have been in a position to prevent Bhartiya Janata Party from forming a government in Assam. If 14 seats where Mahajot alliance and AJP-RD votes are together greater than Mitrajot alliance led by BJP votes are subtracted from 75 seats won by Mitrajot and added to the Mahajot and AJP-RD combine strength of 51, it yields a different result.
Quite naturally, the Congress is blaming the AJP-RD alliance for having split the anti-BJP or secular votes and help BJP come to power. To make matters worse Himanta Biswa Sarma, now the Chief Minister of Assam, declared in a television interview, in the middle of the elections, that his party had encouraged the formation of AJP and RD alliance to split the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protestors’ votes.
It is noteworthy that leaders who formed AJP and RD, Lurinjyoti Gogoi and Akhil Gogoi, respectively, were at the forefront of anti-CAA protests. In fact, Akhil Gogoi is in jail since December, 2019 for having participated in the anti-CAA agitation on charges of sedition and under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, whereas his colleagues also booked under similar charges are out on bail.
Even though many organizations 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 it violated the spirit of Assam Accord, it was clearly the alliance of 70 organisations led by Akhil Gogoi’s Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti which was spearheading the most aggressive protests.
Akhil 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, which appears to be the only possible reason of his continued incarceration. In a letter written from jail last year Akhil had appealed for unity of AASU, Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad, KMSS, Forum against CAA, civil society of Assam, students, people’s organisations, tribal organizations, national organizations, crusading writers-intellectuals and common citizens of Assam to run a movement capable of bringing the government to its knees. Congress Party was nowhere in picture either in the protests against CAA or in attempting to forge any alliance.
The popular sentiment was to see a force capable of dislodging BJP from power and Akhil Gogoi was seen as a natural choice of such a movement being the most prominent face of anti-CAA protests, even since the Bill was conceived. It would not be an exaggeration to say that KMSS led alliance of 70 organisations was the avant-garde in 2019 just like the AASU during 1979-85. This time AASU joined late with an alliance of 30 groups.
Come the assembly elections, as Akhil was in jail, Congress took the lead in calling for an anti-CAA alliance and decided to take All India United Democratic Front as a partner. This upset Akhil and he described AIUDF a communal party, with which Professor Hiren Gohain, prominent public intellectual of Assam and Akhil Gogoi’s long time mentor and supporter, did not agree and chose to resign as his party’s advisor. It’ll be a matter of debate whether AJP-RD position on AIDUF was a wise one.
Akhil Gogoi
However, instead of blaming AJP-RD alliance for the defeat of Mahajot, if Congress had been large hearted and declared Akhil Gogoi as the CM’s candidate of the opposition grand alliance of all non-BJP parties, as Akhil had called for, especially as it didn’t have its own after the demise of three times consecutive CM Tarun Gogoi, the entire dynamics of electoral battle would have dramatically altered. It is possible that a number of people who participated in the anti-CAA protests but were convinced to vote for BJP in the end, would have remained with an alliance whose CM candidate was the most prominent anti-CAA protestor, that too in jail.
Akhil Gogoi was initially thinking of contesting from two seats – Sibsagar and Mariani. However, he dropped the idea of contesting from latter essentially because his presence would have divided the anti-BJP votes, which eventually helped the Congress candidate from here to win by a slender margin of 2446 votes. Whereas Akhil was considerate towards Congress, the Congress did not show the same magnanimity in Sibsagar. And we’ve to remember that Tarun Gogoi government had also put Akhil in jail making allegations against him of being a Maoist.
Akhil’s victory in the election from Sibsagar has not gone unnoticed. Himanta Biswa Sarma, Akhil Gogoi’s senior in Cotton College, has made a caustic comment that he hopes Akhil would now abide by the Constitution and not resort to unparliamentary politics. The reality is that Akhil has probably fought all his life to uphold the Constitutional values and people in power have blatantly violated democratic principles.
Had Congress exhibited some imagination it could have trounced BJP in the same manner that Mamata Banerjee did in West Bengal and today it could have been on a path of revival and BJP would have sunk more in gloom.
---
*Sandeep Pandey, Magsaysay award winning social activist, is vice president, Socialist Party (India); Divesh Ranjan is political analyst

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