India had its tryst with alternative politics in recent times when from the India Against Corruption Movement emerged the Aam Aadmi Party, a party that rode to power in Delhi in 2013 riding on promises of a different kind of politics. Staying away from any pronounced ideology and bringing protest politics to the centre stage, AAP’s commitments to providing free electricity, water, emphasis on better public health service and public education made people believe that AAP targeted the political and corporate nexus and aimed at reigning in corporate capitalism.
AAP’s emergence needs to be seen in the global context. The decade was marked by the Arab Revolution, anti Euro-centric political formulations and United States also saw the formation of something called Tea Party. The Tea Party was a grass root political movement that emerged in 2009 as a staunch critique of Barack Obama’s various policies including the much applauded Obama Care. After all these years, the very feasibility of such politics is being questioned all across the world. Many arenas of alternative politics saw more regressive and reactionary groups emerge.
In India after almost seven years, alternative politics and AAP is facing similar queries. While nobody can deny the fact that the party did introduce a new language of politics, with passing time it is turning into a new party failing to offer a new menu.
The bitter in-fighting amongst the founding members and the defections portrayed it just like other parties. Their critique of the corporate has also mellowed over the time and it seems the party has moved away from popular ways of engaging the common people in governance. In the initial days, party leaders regularly held open meetings. The frequency slowly dwindled.
Many bid adieu to AAP’s legacy of alternative politics because it failed to challenge the dominant narrative of right wing political formations. Especially in the context of 2019 Assembly elections, AAP’s tactical silence on anti-CAA protests, their go ahead to Delhi police on Kanhaiya Kumar’s case shows their reluctance to directly take on BJP. Their poor electoral performance in the Assembly elections as well as local self government elections might be a reason of such pragmatic shifts.
In such a situation, talks of political alternatives and alternative politics must take all this into consideration. The anti-CAA protests in Assam starting from last December saw such a momentum. Considering the role that Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), the regional party born out of Assam Movement, played in this entire episode – a vacuum has been created in the regional political arena.
AGP, initially hailed as a harbinger of Assam’s aspiration, has let down people not only by their less impressive stints in office, but also a U-turn on the Assam Accord. The anti-CAA protest saw a strong demand for a political alternative to these parties. All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) even gave a call to co-ordinate with other civil society stakeholders, artists and decides on an alternative platform to counter BJP in upcoming elections. However, nothing concrete came out of it.
With the onset of the pandemic and just before the lockdown, while active protests had to be curtailed – the demand for an alternative platform saw some momentum when Ajit Bhuyan, an eminent journalist, political commentator and the Executive President of Asom Nagarik Samaj, was elected to Rajya Sabha as the common opposition candidate.
Bhuyan was allegedly pressurised to resign from the post of Editor of a popular Assamese news channel for his political stand. In an interview given to The Wire, Ajit Bhuyan reiterated the need for a strong political alternative. When asked about AIUDF, he stated that he did not think the party is communal or sectarian and voicing the rights of a minority group is also a democratic right.
Taking the momentum ahead, in mid June Bhuyan and others decided to form a new regional platform. The new platform denied any alliance with the present political parties. Christened Anchalik Gana Morcha or Regional People’s Front, the platform brings together a number of regional parties and organisations like Axom Xongrami Mancha, Liberal Democratic Party, ASDC, Khilonjiya Jonogoshthiyo Janachetana Mohaxangha, Jatiyatabad Punor Nirman Xomiti etc. It also enjoys support from other organisations like Axom Jatiyotabadi Yuva Chhatra Parishad (AJYCP) and is in discussion with other groups like KMSS, AASU etc.
In the first meet of this mancha, the convenors and others associated with the platform stated that their aim is to bring together anti-CAA forces on one platform and provide a political alternative. Along with the citizenship question, other pertinent issues like illegal mining and resource extraction, custodial death of Jayanta Bora and rising numbers of mob lynching were also raised in the meet.
But does Assam need just a political alternative in the form of a new party? Will a new political front fill the gap of a strong regional voice and provide solutions to Assam’s long term problems? Does Assam need one more political front/party or a new way of doing politics?
The feasibility of alternative politics ushered in by this group will be worth observing. Ajit Bhuyan was elected to Rajya Sabha with the support of Congress and AIUDF. In such a situation, will the new front be actually able to provide an alternative to these parties as well?
The people of Assam still remember the last party born out of a movement. Can we hope that the legacy of Anchalik Gana Mancha will be different? Questions are also being asked in certain section about the popular mass base of the leaders of this mancha.
At present two important questions persist – firstly, will the front succeed in transforming ideological support to votes or may merely act as a vote cutter in the upcoming elections? This becomes interesting because many contestants in the last election won by narrow margins.
And secondly, even if elected will they be able to provide a new non-sectarian, all inclusive language of politics and take Assam forward from the many fragmentations it has suffered till date? While writing this piece, news of a new party under the AASU to be formed started trickling in.
It remains to be seen if these moves will merely provide a political alternative in elections or usher in a new fresh breathe of alternative politics in the state.
Parvin Sultana is an assistant professor in the department of political science at Pramathesh Barua College. She can be reached at: [email protected]