While an internal feud cost the Congress Madhya Pradesh on Friday, the party might just have committed a hara-kiri in Assam as well when only a year is left for the assembly polls in the state.
In recent times, no photograph in Assam has triggered so much of hushed reaction as the one published on March 13, which showed senior Congress leader and former chief minister Tarun Gogoi walking hand-in-hand with independent Rajya Sabha candidate Ajit Bhuyan and chief of All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) Maulana Badruddin Ajmal.
The photograph was the result of a decision by the AIUDF and Congress to jointly support Bhuyan and contest the forthcoming polls in the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC). But this has also sparked a severe reaction among party workers who feel that the tie-up with the AIUDF was the outcome of the efforts by Tarun Gogoi who did not bother to consult senior functionaries.
To make matters worse, Gogoi has also declared the possibility of a pre-poll alliance between the two parties for the assembly election next year, prompting Congress legislature party leader Debabrata Saikia to issue a clarification that the high command was yet to take a call on the alliance.
Saikia is so peeved with the development that he is even contemplating resigning from the post of the leader of opposition, sources in Congress revealed, and added that at least three legislators were actively considering joining the BJP. Incidentally, senior BJP leader and health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has already announced that Congress legislator from Lakhipur Rajdeep Goala would resign from the party soon.
The AIUDF is identified with the Bengal-origin Muslims in Assam who are divided into different categories, including the migrant community that settled in the state post 1971. While it won 13 seats in the previous assembly polls in the state, Congress registered victories in 26.
The clique loyal to Tarun Gogoi feels that a tie-up with AIUDF would pay rich dividends for the Congress next year. The Congress is also hoping to wrest a large chunk of the votes among the tea tribes and a few of the 14 seats won by the Asom Gana Parishad in the last elections. However, many party functionaries are not as optimistic of defeating the BJP-led alliance.
The gloomy ambience in the Congress has been summed up in a letter dispatched by a group of 10 angry legislators to party president Sonia Gandhi soliciting her intervention at the earliest. They also hinted at leaving the party if the present state of affairs continued without a change.
“The letter delved into the adverse consequences for the Congress in Assam if an alliance were to be firmed up with the AIUDF for the assembly polls. Only about 40 seats are dominated by Muslims in Assam out of a total of 126. The party could be wiped out in the rest and get identified as a party of Muslims,” said a senior functionary on condition of anonymity.
“And of course, such an alliance will never impact the fortune of Tarun Gogoi’s son Gaurav.”
A top functionary in the Congress revealed that the letter underscores “three vital aspects” about the current conditions in the state unit of the party which could worsen if the high command continues to turn a blind eye.
“First, the letter highlights that the AGP vote bank would shift to the Congress in the assembly polls for the party’s anti-CAA stand but the prospects would be marred by the alliance with the AIUDF since the party is identified with Bengal-origin Muslims,” the functionary said, adding that the legislators have explained how Tarun Gogoi’s efforts are being aimed at deriving mileage for his son and changing the leadership of the party next year.
And third, the letter also makes a case for replacing party president Ripun Bora which lends credence to the long-standing demand by a section of the functionaries who had also made a representation before the high command some months ago on the same issue.
That the Congress has been wrecked by a weak leadership and internal squabbles was evident from the results of the general elections last year when the BJP won as many as nine seats out of a total of 14 in Assam in spite of the virulent agitation against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. The Congress failed to capitalise on the anti-BJP sentiments which had swept the entire Assamese heartland in the state.
The Congress’s slide in Assam can only benefit the BJP which is confident of winning the assembly polls. A big challenge for the saffron party would be to prevent the swing of the AGP vote bank to the Congress especially in the region east of Nagaon on the south bank of the Brahmaputra. The AGP’s predicament is even worse than the Congress and equally affected by internal feud.(Rajeev Bhattacharyya is a senior journalist in Guwahati. Views expressed are personal)