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

Rajeev Bhattacharyya | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 10:34 IST

The jibe

  • Assam CM Tarun Gogoi: BJP is a party of Hindi speaking leaders trying to invade Assam
  • Gogoi poked fun at a BJP press release which misspelled names of Assam leaders

The aim

  • This is aimed at consolidating Ahom votes ahead of next year\'s Assembly polls
  • Gogoi desperately wants an understanding with other \"secular\" parties

More in the story

  • What is Gogoi\'s real agenda?
  • Why have the Centre\'s negotiations with ULFA made Gogoi\'s nervous?

Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi has come up with an Assamese version of "Bihari versus Bahari" to attack the BJP.

He has termed the BJP as "a party of Hindi-speaking national leaders trying to invade Assam". The attacks are growing shriller in the run-up to the Assembly elections in Assam next year.

Gogoi's statement was well-timed as it coincided with the commemoration day of Lachit Borpukhan - the Ahom general credited with defeating the mighty Mughals in the Battle of Saraighat more than three hundred years ago.

From time to time, local organisations including the banned ULFA have used this event as a metaphor to drum up support against outsiders and migrants.

By harping on Lachit Barphukan and his victory over the Mughals, the chief minister expects to make a clean sweep of the Ahom dominated constituencies in Upper Assam, where the BJP and other parties have been making inroads of late.

In last year's general elections, the BJP had won 7 seats in Assam out of a total of 14. It performed well in Upper Assam.

BJP's pro-Hindi bias?

Gogoi's tirade comes close on the heels of several goof-ups committed by BJP functionaries in pronouncing and spelling the names of local leaders and icons. The CM used this opportunity to allege that there are attempts to impose Hindi pronunciations in Assam. According to him, this was no less than an "invasion by Hindi-speaking people."

Attacking the BJP, Gogoi alleges that there are attempts to impose Hindi pronunciations in Assam

The press release issued by the BJP in New Delhi on 21 November soon after the formation of the election management committee had as many as five errors in the names of the members.

Newly appointed state BJP president Sarbananda Sonowal's name was written as Sarbanand Sonwal and convener Himanta Biswa Sarma's as Hement Viswa Sharma.

Also read: Assam: Congress suspend four MLAs for 'anti-party activities'

The state in charge of the party Mahendra Singh went a step further by referring to social reformer and Vaishnavite saint Srimanta Sankardeva as "Baba Sankardeo".

Like some other states in the Northeast, anti-outsider and anti-migrant sentiments have often been exploited in Assam by parties and local organisations during elections. Till recently, BJP was perceived as a party from North India without any concern for local issues. Not surprisingly, the grassroots organisation of the party is still weak compared to the Congress and AIUDF.

Gogoi's Grand Alliance

But more than anything else, Gogoi's statement is also a reflection of his desperation to arrive at an understanding with "secular parties" against the BJP ahead of the polls. This comes at a time when an anti-incumbency wave is gradually gaining momentum in the state. The rallies of Opposition leaders are gathering huge crowds in different parts of the state.

Soon after the Bihar elections, the Congress high command and the JD(U) had reportedly advised Gogoi to go for a Mahagathbandhan of anti-BJP parties. While the chief minister ruled out the possibility of an alliance, he entertained hopes of a "Mahabujabuji" (grand understanding).

He has made an appeal to at least three parties to join hands that include the minority-dominated All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), Gana Mukti Sangram Assam led by the fiery peasant leader and RTI activist Akhil Gogoi and the Bodoland People's Front (BPF). But these parties have been highly critical of Gogoi's failure in addressing burning issues like unemployment, development and illegal immigration.

BPF which was once a close ally of the Congress is now reportedly drawing close to the BJP.

Talks with ULFA

Gogoi's statement also came hours after a round of talks was concluded between the pro-talks faction of the ULFA and government representatives in the capital. The former rebels had made a case for the release and inclusion of the outfit's jailed general secretary Anup Chetia in the negotiations.

Jailed ULFA leader Anup Chetia's support to the peace process can harm the Congress in the polls

According to informed sources, the discussions are "almost over" on the 38-page charter of demands that was submitted in 2011. "Most of the demands have been accepted and only a few have been rejected," sources claimed, adding "A decision has also been taken to release Chetia since his participation in the peace process will give a greater degree of legitimacy to the exercise."

The Congress is clearly worried since Chetia's support for the peace process could shake traditional Congress strongholds of Dibrugarh and Tinsukia.

Also read: Assam: 9 rebel Congress MLAs join BJP, Gogoi left with wafer-thin majority

First published: 26 November 2015, 8:04 IST
Rajeev Bhattacharyya

Rajeev is a senior journalist in Guwahati and author of 'Rendezvous With Rebels: Journey to Meet India's Most Wanted Men'.