After Bihar, the next suspenseful electoral battle is set to be waged in Assam. After all, Mamata Banerjee’s Trimool in West Bengal and Jayalalitha’s AIADMK in Tamil du look invincible at this point of time; while in Kerala, where the Congress-led UDF and Left Front-led LDF have long been forming governments altertely, the LDF is fancying its chances again after it rrowly lost in 2011. All these states are going to polls next year, but the electoral chequerboard in Assam appears the most dicey with the ruling Congress, the major opposition party AIUDF and the rising BJP gearing up for a triangular battle. It won’t be an even battle everywhere with the AIUDF perceived to be strong in lower and central Assam along with Barak valley where the Muslim electorate is sizeable, and in parts, domint. The Congress has its traditiol strongholds in upper and central Assam, the North bank and Karbi hills. The anxiety in Rajiv Bhawan is palpable with the State Congress recently accusing AIUDF Badaruddin Ajmal of striking a ‘secret deal’ with the BJP. In an obvious ploy to pressurise the AIUDF, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has accused Ajmal of back-channel talks with both the Congress and the BJP. State Congress president Anjan Dutta has gone a step further by alleging that Ajmal is demanding Rs 150 crores from the BJP to put up candidates in all 126 constituencies in the State to split the Muslim electorate. Ajmal has threatened to move the court with defamation action; but the speculation in political quarters is whether the AIUDF supremo will agree to play second fiddle to the Congress or call Rajiv Bhawan’s bluff in any ‘grand alliance’ involving the two parties. Meanwhile Chief Minister Gogoi, in a bid to prevent any BJP consolidation of the six agitating ethnic communities — has called upon the Centre to expedite granting ST status, while at the same time demanding that the move ‘should have legal validity and not affect the rights and privileges of tribal communities’. This is yet another example of running with the hares and hunting with the hounds, but the politics over ST status has unfortutely become mired in deception.
If the Bihar elections turned out to be a resounding mandate for regiol forces, the outlook for such forces in Assam is yet to inspire confidence. The AGP is desperately trying to revive its fortunes with a door-to-door contact programme, but fears are that it may yet lose more leaders and chunks of followers to the BJP in the coming days. There has been much soul searching among proponents of regiol identity, exploring the possibilities of occupying an altertive political space. In the latest such attempt, a regiol front ‘Asom Songrami Manch’ has been floated, seeking to forge a composite identity by taking on board various communities and pushing for their interests. But turning this front into a vote-catching machine is another matter altogether, at least for the 2016 assembly elections barely four months away. KMSS leader Akhil Gogoi too has been trying for this altertive space, after he floated a political party ‘Ga Mukti Sangram Assam’ in March this year. Undoubtedly inspired by Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP’s phenomel win in Delhi, Gogoi had indicated his party may contest elections ‘as a strategy’ to achieve ‘social change and fight against centralised form of governce’. With Akhil Gogoi training guns on the Modi government, there is now intense speculation that the Congress government is planning to co-opt the KMSS demand for ‘land rights to the indigenous landless’ and gain electoral mileage. While Badaruddin Ajmal has been talking of a third front to bring together parties against both the Congress and the BJP, it is a fact that eight parties did announce a joint agitatiol programme last March against the ‘anti-people and anti-Assam policies of the Congress and the BJP’. But the AGP, CPI(M), CPI, CPI(ML), NCP, Samajwadi Party, Ganshakti and Hills State Democratic Party are yet to draw closer apart from such programmes, so Ajmal may only be posturing. Another political party floated this year is Prodyut Bora’s ‘Liberal Democratic Party’. Espousing value-based politics, the party seeks to appeal to those disaffected by the ‘BJP’s social conservatism and Congress’ status quo-ism’. This may sound impossibly idealistic, but it can hardly be denied that political choices in Assam have little on offer for the thinking voter.