The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) was born in the cusp of the Assam Movement. In a recent political development, the party decided to enter in an alliance with the BJP again. While the declared aim of the alliance is to counter the advent of Congress, the recent U turn of AGP is being seen as a betrayal to the cause of the people of Assam. Critics are labelling it as an opportunist move by AGP which put their own self interest above the interests of the state.
AGP’s formation was an expression of Assam’s aspirations. The six-year-long historic Assam Movement culminated in the Assam Accord. Among other things, the accord marked the deadline of 24th March, 1971 and any foreigner entering the state after this date was to be sent back. AGP was the political expression of the Movement and it was hoped that once in power, it will try to implement the Accord and solve Assam’s long standing problems.
There is no need to reiterate what the AGP did in the two terms it was in power and how it failed the people of the state. It must have been the party’s tremendous shortcomings which ensured a three term stint for Congress. But looking for a respite from Congress’s corrupt regime, the people of Assam decided to give the regional party another chance and the present government was formed by BJP and AGP.
Once in power, the BJP went back on many of its electoral promises. The party rode to power on promises of end of a corrupt regime and zero tolerance of illegal immigration. However, once in power, the party started working on elaborate plans of legitimising non-Muslim immigrants from neighbouring countries.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 aimed to give non Muslim immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh the right to apply for Indian citizenship. This if made into an act will further complicate Assam’s politics as immigration has been the dominant issue in the political discourse of the state. While the entire region was out in the streets protesting the CAB, 2019, AGP continued to be in the government. It was only towards the end that AGP was forced to take a stand and break away from the alliance.
In January, 2019 AGP decided to quit the government after BJP passed the bill in Lok Sabha. The people of Assam, the large number of organisations protesting against the bill welcomed this move. The regional party of Assam was seen to have regained some lost popularity. Many who believed that strong regional parties are inevitable in a functioning federalism became hopeful. But the AGP’s decision to again join the government in less than two months is seen as a betrayal of the people’s trust.
In fact many are now commenting that their earlier exit from the government was nothing less than a pre-planned drama. The BJP tried to test electoral waters by fighting the Panchayat Elections alone. While the BJP did perform well, Congress was not left behind very far. And AGP along with AIUDF emerged as vote–cutters if not winners.
In such a scenario, BJP might have thought that AGP alone in the Lok Sabha elections would cut into BJP votes. To ensure that it does not happen, the BJP again took AGP on board. It is interesting that BJP allowed AGP to fight in three seats – Dhubri, Barpeta and Kaliabor. Of these three, AGP is very unlikely to win Dhubri and Barpeta seats, which continues to be AIUDF strongholds. In Kaliabor, AIUDF did not field any candidate and made the fight easier for Congress but tougher for BJP.
Even without the likelihood of winning any seat, why AGP joined the alliance is a question one should ponder upon. On the Citizenship Bill, will AGP oppose its ally or keep quiet, needs to be seen. AGP was so desperate to be back in the helm of power that they didn’t even bother to bargain and was more than happy to be the junior partner in the government. AGP didn’t even bother to lay down any condition in front of the BJP with regard to CAB. It seems the alliance is very much on BJP’s terms and AGP’s decision was taken keeping in mind their immediate interests.
AGP’s founder president Prafulla Kumar Mahanta has been critical of the decision. He also accused some leaders of the party of taking the decision in a very undemocratic way. The decision has also disappointed workers of AGP at the grassroot level and many have already resigned from the party. BJP’s ploy it seems is managing a few leaders with ministries and other portfolios than working on common minimum goals and take the party’s support base on board.
Mahanta stated that if AGP had not joined the alliance, its prospects for the 2021 elections would have been better. However, AGP’s lack of farsightedness has made its future prospects bleak. It has also left a vacuum in Assam’s politics. People of Assam are left with very few political options. The very specificity of the region requires strong regional leaders and parties which can wrench deals for the region. But AGP’s submissive stand to a national party has raised concerns about the future of regionalism in the Northeast.
Many from the AGP try to justify the move by citing political pragmatism. For them AGP will not be able to win elections on its own and hence this is a pragmatic move by the party. But anybody who has followed the developments closely can see the inherent opportunism in the move. At present, there is a need for the emergence of an alternative political platform. There is the need of a party which can move above narrow chauvinist sub-nationalism and take on board the concerns of the people of Assam. If not national parties and central governments will continue browbeating the leaders of the state.