Assam 2016: parties' hopes, dilemma & political arithmetic
DATELINE Guwahati /Wasbir Hussain
The Congress, BJP and the AIUDF, the three main political parties in Assam, are fired by hope and hit by dilemma with barely eight months left for the State Assembly elections. Three-time winner Congress has been weakened by dissidence and a poor governce report card, but is still hopeful of surprising everyone in 2016. The BJP is putting up a brave front with a 'Mission 84' slogan but is in a huge dilemma because it has been openly embracing people from varying ideologies into the party, making the old workers apprehensive. The AIUDF is more than hopeful of a good performance, but is certainly in a dilemma on whether to go with the Congress or the BJP if it were to become a factor in government formation!
What could the political alignment look like, assuming that no party secures an absolute majority in the 126-member Assembly? The Congress will have no problem having the AIUDF as a coalition partner; the AIUDF will have no problem aligning with the Congress and may not have too much of a difficulty in supporting the BJP. The BJP, however, cannot enter into an alliance with the AIUDF because the Sangh parivar, particularly the RSS, will not approve of it. In such a scerio, the Congress and the AIUDF may appear to have an edge in so far as getting together to reach the magic number required to form a government. But, the BJP has done some advance planning by getting the Hagrama Mahilary-led Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) to its side, and opening channels of communication with key ethnic leaders and parties across the State. That means, the BJP is hopeful of a grand ethnic alliance in the State that could side with it. The BJP will also try and forge an electoral understanding with the AGP. So, the equations look evenly balanced.
Why is it possible for the AIUDF to support the BJP and why it looks impossible for the BJP to have the AIUDF as an alliance partner in case of a need? The AIUDF, headed by Maula Badruddin Ajmal, has been pragmatic since its inception in 2005. If Ajmal went out of his way to lend support to the UPA Government at the Centre even while opposing the Congress in Assam, he was also among the first political leader in the country to congratulate rendra Modi when the BJP won in May 2014. But the AIUDF’s biggest asset is its President Maula Ajmal, who is a respected Islamic cleric, and is the Assam State president of the Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind (Mehmood Madani group). Therefore, in case Maula Ajmal decides to let his party, the AIUDF, lend support to the BJP, he actually can. This is because his supporters would listen to him and is unlikely to question the idea. Maula Ajmal has actually two platforms to make any appeal—as chief of the AIUDF, and as a religious leader.
The AIUDF is taboo for the BJP in Assam. This despite the fact that the BJP and the PDP are running a coalition government in Jammu & Kashmir, and have, therefore, set a precedent of the saffron party aligning with a regiol force to assume power. Firstly, certain key issues like illegal migration do not exist in the State. Secondly, the Sangh seems to have given some free-hand to the BJP leadership in J & K to choose its allies. But, in Assam, the BJP top leadership comprises of people who have not been with the RSS or do not come from an RSS background unlike the BJP leadership in other states. And, in the past few years, the BJP in Assam have welcomed into its fold people from the AGP, AASU and now the Congress, raising questions on the saffron party’s claim that it is an ideology-driven party. Therefore, the RSS may not actually be totally comfortable with letting the BJP leaders in Assam carry out micro-magement of political affairs. If, therefore, it is the RSS that is actually indulging in political micro-magement in Assam, it would like to have no truck with the AIUDF that is perceived as a party with a known vote bank. But the AIUDF cannot be dismissed as a party that will always remain confined to pockets domited by Muslim settlers. Reports that veteran Congressman Devanda Konwar may join the AIUDF only goes to indicate that the party could be eyeing new areas like parts of Upper Assam.
I would like to make it clear that things on the ground or the voting behaviour of the people could be totally different and, therefore, all predictions may go haywire. BJP leaders like Himanta Biswa Sharma and others have been saying in recent weeks that lot of Muslims in Assam have come to the BJP’s fold. Whether this is true or not is a different matter, but the BJP in Assam is certainly trying to send out a message that Muslims are welcome to join the party and that they are shedding apprehensions to come to its fold. What cannot be denied is that the condition of the Muslims or the areas domited by them have not improved under the Congress, nor had it improved during the AGP’s tenure. The AIUDF can hope to escape this charge because the party has not been in government yet. Theoretically, the same applies to the BJP. So, I would not be surprised if Muslims in Assam decides to turn into radical voters this time and influence government formation in no uncertain terms. If this happens, the beneficiary could either be the BJP or the AIUDF!