DATELINE Guwahati /Wasbir Hussain
With the State Assembly elections less than six months away, one is yet to hear anything from any of the four major political parties of Assam—the Congress, AIUDF, BJP and the AGP—on their stand on major issues confronting the State. None of these parties have laid out anything on how they would possibly deal with issues such as floods, unemployment, dam building, bridging the ethnic divide, industrialisation or peace-making. These parties are obsessed with holding on to or grabbing power by any means. The result has been that we are hearing of secret meetings to cobble up possible alliances or unnounced hush deals ahead of polls.
Open pre-poll alliance is fine because it allows the electorate to take a decision and exercise their franchise after having assessed the pros and cons. But secret understandings (maha-bujabuji) bring two or more parties together but keep the voters in the dark about the deal. That is cheating, nothing else, because the electorate is not aware of such an understanding and may vote without knowing that the two parties, which may have different ideologies or views on issues, have struck a deal to reap benefits in government formation after the elections are over. Assam seems to be heading for hush deals this time, something which is not very healthy.
The Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) led by Hagrama Mahilary has been different. Its leaders have met Prime Minister Modi in New Delhi and declared that the party has no problem supporting or aligning with the BJP if the Centre agrees to allocate Rs 1000 crore annually for five years to the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) for carrying out development programmes. As far as the ruling Congress is concerned, only Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has been openly saying his party was engaged in talks with the AIUDF for a possible electoral alliance. Gogoi even said not only with him, the AIUDF is engaged in talks with his ‘representatives’ as well. When Pradesh Congress chief Anjan Dutta tried to say something else, Gogoi reiterated what he said and declared the truth lies in what he has been saying.
The AIUDF’s stand is the most unpredictable. Its president Maula Badruddin Ajmal has been saying the party maintains an ‘anti-Congress, anti-BJP’ stand. But, it is clear, with a possibility to bag twenty or more seats, the AIUDF is certainly hoping to play king-maker. And, the only party it can side with is the Congress. Therefore, whether or not the AIUDF says anything on the matter of alliance, it is clear it will align with the Congress, most likely engaging in a post-poll alliance so as not to disturb the vote transfer during the elections. That leaves the BJP and the AGP.
The BJP, desperate to stch a victory, realises that it can actually put up a proper contest in around 80 seats (30 seats are AIUDF strongholds and around 15 seats domited by the BPF), and, therefore, it cannot achieve its ‘Mission 84’ target without allies. That precisely is the reason why the party leaders like Sarbanda Sonowal had taken the initiative to arrange a meeting between the BPF leaders and the Prime Minister at this crucial juncture. On its part, the AGP knows 2016 is its last chance to survive as a party. Actually, the coming polls are going to be a Waterloo for the AGP, once the flag-bearer of regiolism in Assam. AGP leader and former Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta told me during a lengthy conversation this week that the party must forge an alliance this time but such an alliance has to be with parties other than the Congress and the BJP. He says a third force is what the people are looking for. But his party leaders have other ideas.
In such a scerio when political parties are only busy working out permutations and combitions, it is futile to expect any agenda from them. The ball, as I had said in these columns before, lies in the court of the voters. The electorate has to rise to the occasion, try and see through the game of the political parties, and exercise their judgement while voting. And, I am pretty sure the voters are capable of doing that and giving Assam its new government.