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Alliance strains

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  23 Jan 2017 12:00 AM GMT

Politics is the art of the possible. Else, the BJP and the AGP would not be forming the government in Assam. The two parties, after all, have the same core votebank — despite one being a tiol, and the other a regiol party. Their political backgrounds and ideologies are vastly different, but in the interests of realpolitik, they joined hands to keep out the Congress in the assembly elections last year. But the rancor in their rank and file against the seat sharing formula was such, that amid the fire-fighting, the BJP and AGP leaderships could not even draw up a common minimum programme. So, would these two parties now be pragmatic, focusing their energies on what they can actually do together in governce? That seems hardly likely, considering the surreptitious manner each is trying to push through its political agenda at the expense of the other. A section of the AGP leadership has been doing this over the last few months on the issue of proposed citizenship to Hindu migrants from Bangladesh. Central to their standpoint is the Assam Accord, which they argue would be rendered null and void once the rendra Modi government gets the citizenship amendment bill passed — and Hindu migrants coming to Assam after 1971 all get regularized at one stroke. In the short term, the AGP may use the threat of such a hard line to bargain for more berths (at least two) in an expanded ministry. Over the longer term though, the regiol party may well fancy an image makeover to make itself more appealing to voters, after 15 frustrating years of continuous rejection. It is precisely this advantage that the BJP leadership is now seeking to deny the AGP, considering its recent decision to go it alone in future elections in Assam.

At the BJP executive meet in Guwahati on Saturday, the decision was taken to contest on its own the panchayat elections in 2018. This apart, every BJP district committee is learned to have pressed upon the top leadership to strengthen the party down to the booth level so that it can also go alone in the 2019 Lok Sabha and 2021 assembly elections. State BJP chief Ranjit Dutta later told mediapersons that this decision ‘will have no impact on the alliance’, pointing out that the BJP’s other alliance partner BPF too contests elections for the Bodoland Territorial Council alone. But the BJP has been careful not to intrude into BPF chief Hagrama Mohilary’s turf; the same cannot be said about its political calculations vis-à-vis the AGP with which it had tussled in the past over who would be ‘big brother’ in any alliance. Sarbanda Sonowal as State BJP chief during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections made his point in emphatic fashion when the party won seven of the 14 seats with 37 percent vote share, its best ever performance from Assam. It kept up the good work with the municipal elections in 2015 by bagging over 43 of the 74 town committees and boards. The BJP leadership may have felt the need to cobble an alliance including the AGP in 2016 for the assembly elections, but the saffron party won 60 of the 89 seats it contested with 29.5 percent vote share, a huge lift from its five seats and 12.9 vote share in 2011 assembly elections. As for the AGP, it won 14 seats of the 30 seats it got to contest in 2016 with 8.1 percent vote share, compared to the 10 seats it won in 2011 with 19.72 percent vote share. Clearly, the BJP transferred more votes to the AGP than vice versa, while the AGP piggybacked on to the BJP’s ‘parivartan’ wave to get a new lease of life. The BJP now clearly fancies its chances to further consolidate its local grassroots base. What is more, it seems eager to fashion a rrative based on its core ideology, and sell it to both the Assamese Hindu and Bengali Hindu electorates before things get out of hand over the citizenship amendment issue. This in turn means that the BJP-led alliance will reek of more ad-hocism in the coming days, with power being the only glue to keep the partners together. It remains to be seen whether alliance leaders here will display the kind of savvy Nitish Kumar and Laloo Yadav are displaying in Bihar, despite the continual political jockeying between the JD(U) and the RJD in the ‘mahagatbandhan’.

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