Future of regional politics in Assam

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By: Pritom Sarma
The year was 2001 when senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai representing NDTV had an interview with then Prime Minister, Bharat Ratna, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The interview is still available on YouTube and every time I see it gives me a new horizon and hope for a better India. Well, any interview given by the former PM had a different aura because of the kind of originality that he possesses and the intent with which he used to give answers. Coming back to the interview, I remember him replying to Sardesai on a topic regarding regional politics in India. He said that regional politics is going to stay and the regional parties support the aspirations of the masses more profoundly than the national parties. He also said that but they (Regional Parties) must have to develop an all India Outlook.
Politics in Assam also has a long history of regional aspirations. But over the years, the issues of development and centre-state symmetry in terms of government has taken the front seat over local issues in the state. Both the 1985 and 2021 Assembly Elections were fought largely on the issue of regional sentiments as compared to the rest. While in the case of the former, the newly formed regional party Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) came to power after the signing of the historic Assam Accord, in the case of the latter history was not repeated, as BJP and its allies emerged victorious, bagging 75 out of 126 seats. As the state has witnessed one of the most volatile protests and unrest in the aftermath of the enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), such a mandate can be related to the absence of regional issues in Assam.
The anti CAA campaign spearheaded by Congress led Mahajot and the two newly formed parties Asom Jatiya Parishad (AJP) and Raijor Dol couldn’t master the required numbers to form the government. While the Congress led alliance has bagged 50 seats, Lurin Jyoti Gogoi led AJP has failed to open its account. Raijor Dol has registered a single win in the prestigious Sibsagar Assembly constituency. However, the success of Akhil Gogoi in Sibsagar has said a different story for the larger issue of identity and regional politics in Assam.
Factors like congress alliance with AIUDF and its impact in Upper Assam, three-way contest in the constituency, absence of the contestant himself as Akhil Gogoi is in jail under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for inciting violence against CAA are enough proof that the battle was not an easy one. But, a newly formed party just before the elections did it. Here, the campaign method of Raijor Dol deserves appreciation as they easily learned the dominance of the money and muscle factor in politics and deciphered an alternative model of winning the election. And it is where this election has taken a different outlook.
Raijor Dol has divided its workers into fragmented units to ensure that they reach every corner of the district. The large procession in the Sibsagar town where activists like Medha Patkar, Yogendra Yadav participated also helped the party. The interesting fact is that the Muslim community in Sibsagar sided with Akhil Gogoi, much like the support of the same for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi. It is where the efficient micromanagement of the campaign team can be pointed out, as otherwise there were chances of the division of votes with the congress. This factor helped the AAP in its two consecutive victories and increased the tally of both Congress and AIUDF in this years election.
Akhil Gogoi, a former student leader of Cotton College is a peasant leader of the left-wing organisation, Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS). Ever since its formation, he has fought against the vital issues of Assam like the hydropower project in the river Brahmaputra and its environmental impact, rising corruption cases in the government, the incidence of poaching in the Kaziranga Wildlife Sanctuary, Cash for Job scam in APSC and other government exams etc. His activities of organising protest rallies, his support base in the rural hinterland of the state, his crowd-pulling oratory skills place him as one of the influential leaders in the state. And after seeing the success of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, Jagan Mohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh, whose present position is large because of their style of grassroots politics, his success in the Sibsagar has many things to say about the issues of indigenous people of Assam. I remember hearing Nelson Mandela in his first overseas interview in the New York City College after being elected as President that, “A person who changes his principles with whom he/she is dealing cannot lead a nation.” And the same thing can be found in Akhil Gogoi as unlike the congress party he opposed its alliance with AIUDF by citing that it is also a communal party.
When AGP first came to power in 1985, people had high hopes on them, but they couldn’t live up to those expectations and took Assam backward for many years. Then the Congress fifteen years rule brought stability in terms of finances, timely salaries of employees, eradication of insurgency etc. And the BJP five year rule under former CM Sarbananda Sonowal had seen improvements in terms of infrastructural development, proper dissemination of welfare schemes, checking of Cash for Job issues in government recruitment, etc. But the larger issues of the foreigner problem, the confusing status of NRC, the peace process in BTR and Karbi Anglong, the high unemployment rate, says that Golden Assam is still far away. And the role of regional forces is vital for pointing such issues in the public domain. It is in such a backdrop that the success of Raijor Dol in Sibsagar has ascertained that, politics is still uncertain in Assam and the issues of identity and recognition are going to play a larger role in the complex political scenario of the state. (The writer is a Masters in Political Science, University of Delhi and Diploma in Development Journalism, YMCA. He can be contacted at 9101266693)

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