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Why Congress is Wary of Taking a Strong Stand on Assam NRC Issue

Though the party has sought to appropriate the ownership of the exercise, it has questioned only the process and procedures involved in the drafting of the register.

Sumit Pande | News18.com

Updated:July 31, 2018, 3:27 PM IST
Why Congress is Wary of Taking a Strong Stand on Assam NRC Issue
Rahul Gandhi and Tarun Gogoi. (PTI file photo)

“Etu mor idea asil,” this was my idea, proclaimed three-time Assam Chief Minister and Congress leader Tarun Gogoi on the publication of the draft National Register of Citizens (NRC).

His reaction indicates the tightrope walk Congress had to take on the issue which may have political ramifications in and outside Assam. At stake are 14 Lok Sabha seats in the state and many more in adjoining states. The Congress’s task has been made unenvious with West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee taking a strident poll position on the issue.

“There was no demand for the NRC. It was not even part of the Assam Accord,” Gogoi has said appropriating ownership of the Supreme Court monitored exercise.

Both Gogoi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi have been very cautious in their reaction to the missing 40 lakh names in the first draft of the NRC. The party has, while seeking to appropriate the ownership of the exercise, questioned only the process and procedures involved in the drafting of the register.

Attempting an image makeover of sorts with the temple run in poll bound states and elsewhere, the Congress has had to calibrate its position carefully. It cannot be seen to be taking a clear cut stand on the issue to antagonise any particular side.

The lesson it seems has been learnt from Gogoi and his political finesse in managing Assam for 15 long years after taking over the reins from his mentor Hiteshwar Saikia.

In 2006, seeking a second term, he dismissed a cry for an alliance with Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front. “Who is Ajmal,” he famously asked. In the process, he aligned the Congress with the majority sentiment without leaving any political space for the Asom Gana Parishad and the BJP to maneuver.

Interestingly, eight years later when his son Gaurav Gogoi prepared to contest his maiden Lok Sabha polls from Kaliabor seat, the then Assam CM re-generated a certain warmth in his ties with Ajmal.

BJP President Amit Shah’s speech in the Rajya Sabha and the strident position taken by TMC leader Mamata Banerjee show larger political impact NRC may have outside Assam.

Banerjee has upped the ante. Ahead of 2019 general elections, she is addressing the anxieties of the large minority constituency in her own backyard which constitutes more than a third of the total electorate in some districts in West Bengal. For a regional party, at times it is much easier to deal with polity in black and white. As it is less complicated for the JD(S) or the DMK to posit on the Cavery issue vis-à-vis national parties like the BJP and the Congress.

BJP West Bengal President Dilip Ghosh by drawing a comparison with Assam has sought to take a strong position against the ruling party on the NRC. The idea is to emerge as the main opposition to the TMC as the BJP attempts to make up for any losses in 2019 from the eastern states.

By invoking Rajiv Gandhi and the Assam Accord, Amit Shah has only underscored Congress’ vulnerability in dealing with complex socio-political issues.

Being a centrist party, Congress’ leadership in its heydays has displayed ability to walk on thin ice. With a debilitated organisation, the task ahead is only more onerous.

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