DATELINE Guwahati /Wasbir Hussain
There is no doubt that regiolism is still relevant in Assam, but one cannot say for sure whether the existing regiol parties like the AGP or the BPF still retain their distinct identity in the State’s socio-political are. It is indeed an irony that at a time when sub-tiol aspirations are still pursued by a variety of forces in Assam, including the extremists, a party like the AGP is battling for survival despite being the flag-bearer of regiolism, not just in the State but in the entire Northeast.
One of the reasons for staunch regiol forces like the AGP losing ground is because it had allowed itself in the past to be almost co-opted by a tiol party like the BJP. The AGP’s electoral alliance with the BJP, on more than one earlier occasion, definitely led the regiol party to lose much of its identity. The situation has reached such a pass for the AGP that it considered it okay to even hold exploratory talks with point-persons of the Congress for a possible electoral alliance. The AGP gave up the idea the moment the news leaked and it was bombarded with criticism from both within and outside the party.
Now, having left with no option, the AGP is engaged in alliance talks with the BJP, a fact confirmed by State BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sharma and others. AGP president Atul Bora, during a conversation with this writer, was at pains to say that there has been no formal engagement with the BJP on the issue of electoral alliance. He, however, added that ‘in case the party gives a directive and agrees to the idea, they could go ahead for an understanding with the BJP. Bora was also quick to agree that the grass root workers of the AGP are clearly in favour of the party going it alone in the ensuing elections. The AGP president added to the confusion by saying that he persolly was in favour of the party contesting the ensuing elections by itself.
The other key regiol party in the State, the BPF, has already entered into an electoral alliance with the BJP. In return, BPF chief Hagrama Mahilary said that the Modi government at the Centre has promised to provide an allocation of Rs 1000 crore to usher in development in the Bodo Council area in the next three years.
The question that arises now is whether a small regiol party like the BPF would be compelled to compromise on its local character having entered into an alliance with a big tiol party like the BJP. The Bodos have influence in around 30 of Assam’s 126 Assembly seats, of which, the BPF would contest 16 seats and leave the rest to the BJP.
There is another dimension to the issue relating to the relevance of regiol parties in the State. Questions are also being asked as to whether a party like BJP, desperate to wrest Assam, is pursuing a deliberate strategy to actually consume or hijack the regiol parties in the State by first co-opting them into their scheme of things. As things stand now, the BJP can hope to form the government in Assam only with the support of regiol allies like the BPF and the AGP, if at all an alliance is reached with the latter. But considering the fact that the AGP has submitted a list demanding 48 seats, an alliance is unlikely, because the BJP can at best spare 20 or less seats to the AGP. That perhaps is the reason why AGP president Atul Bora told me that he has asked his party colleagues to be mentally prepared to fight the polls alone.
On the whole, election 2016 is really going to be a test for regiolism in Assam in a battle that is primarily going to be fought between two tiol parties.