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#AssamPolls: what Gogoi's desperate anti-BJP pitch says about his prospects

Charu Kartikeya | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:28 IST

Tarun Gogoi's comments at a press briefing in Delhi on 22 January have given a new twist to the unfolding saga of political developments in Assam.

The chief minister said he would ask people to vote for any party but the BJP even if they don't choose the Congress.

In the run-up to the assembly election, likely to be held in March-April, three of Assam's four largest parties have so far begun exploring alliances, and then backed out. As Catch reported earlier, JD(U) first tried to broker a Bihar-style anti-BJP Grand Alliance, but failed. The two leading prospective partners of this grouping, the Congress and the All India United Democratic Front did not agree on seat sharing.

Also read - #ModiInAssam: 5 takeaways from Modi's visit to the state

The Asom Gana Parishad has flirted with both the Congress and the BJP, but has not made any commitment to either. Some reports claim that the former NDA ally has already decided to go it alone.

Only the BJP has been successful in finding a partner so far - the Bodoland People's Front.

Tactical campaign: Could the Congress field weak candidates on seats where the AIDUF is strong?

Gogoi said in New Delhi there will be an understanding among "all parties opposed to communal forces" - their common aim being to defeat the BJP. This is the objective that had brought staunch rivals like the JD(U) and the RJD together in Bihar.

But this motivation does not appear to be enough for parties in Assam to set aside their own rivalries.

On their own

Senior journalist Kalyan Barooah dismisses Gogoi's idea of an "understanding". He says it will be seen by the voters as an alliance, and "will have the same repercussions as an official pre-poll alliance would on different parties' vote bases".

Barooah says the anti-BJP camp is struggling to stitch up an alliance because no party is able to think beyond its own vote base. The Congress, for one, has traditionally had a following among the peasants in upper Assam - Dhemaji, Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur, Tinsukia, Sibsagar, Jorhat, Golaghat districts - and minorities in lower Assam - Dhubri, Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon, Goalpara, Baksa, Chirang, Barpeta, Nalbari, Kamrup Rural, Kamrup Metro.

In recent years, the AIUDF has taken all of lower Assam away from the Congress, even making inroads into some parts of central Assam, Barooah explains. Among the peasants in upper Assam, the BJP was able to establish a presence in the Lok Sabha polls, and is expecting to do well there in these polls as well.

No formal alliance, but is Tarun Gogoi banking on an informal pact with AIUDF to beat back the BJP?

Given this situation, the Congress is afraid that if it ties up with the AIUDF, its Hindu voters might switch to the BJP, practically giving the saffron party a complete walkover, Barooah says.

As for the AGP, Barooah says the party had a base in lower Assam, but not anymore. Only 3-4 of its leaders like former chief minister PK Mahanta win seats any longer. However, in spite of its weak position, the party feels that since it was born on an anti-Congress plank, aligning with the Congress will lead to serious infighting, Barooah assesses.

In fact, he adds that the final word on the AGP's tie-up is yet to be heard because the BJP is still in talks with it to forge an alliance.

Also read - Secret killings in Assam: 400 people murdered. But no one killed them

Strength in disunity

If Baroaah is right, then the inability of anti-BJP parties to come together might give the BJP an advantage that it will try to build upon by stitching alliances.

Prof Chandan Kumar Sharma, who teaches at Tezpur University, does not agree. He says as far as the AGP is concerned, there are two opinions within it - one of them pushing for an alliance with BJP and the other for with the Congress. Which of the two prevails can not be predicted. However, there is definitely scope for an an informal understanding between the Congress and the AIUDF, Prof Sharma adds.

Prof Sharma further explains that an unsure Congress, facing a three-term anti-incumbency, might want to leave a door open for a post-poll tie-up with the AIUDF and that could only be possible if there is an understanding before the polls.

The AGP is a spent force. Only 3-4 of its leaders like PK Mahanta can win seats anymore: @kapzb

This "understanding" is crucial, he points out, because the Congress has several legislators from minority-dominated areas where the AIUDF might put up a serious fight, damaging the Congress' prospects.

So on seats where the Congress is weak and the AIUDF strong, it may field a weak candidate or may not campaign hard enough. Also, Prof Sharma notes, AIUDF chief Badruddin Ajmal always supports the UPA in the parliament. The ongoing spat between the Congress and AIUDF leaders might just be posturing, he says.

With so many possibilities emerging, Assam is turning out to be far trickier a contest than Bihar, as much for analysts to predict as for the parties to fight. The only difference between the two is the lack of alliances on both sides in Assam.

More in Catch - What Assam can expect from Anup Chetia led peace talks

Gogoi does a Nitish: Decoding the Assam CM's tirade against outsiders

No Grand Alliance in Assam: Congress & AIUDF fail to strike a deal

First published: 24 January 2016, 3:58 IST
Charu Kartikeya @CharuKeya

Assistant Editor at Catch, Charu enjoys covering politics and uncovering politicians. Of nine years in journalism, he spent six happily covering Parliament and parliamentarians at Lok Sabha TV and the other three as news anchor at Doordarshan News. A Royal Enfield enthusiast, he dreams of having enough time to roar away towards Ladakh, but for the moment the only miles he's covering are the 20-km stretch between home and work.