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Alliances may cost BJP dear in Assam

By Bivekananda Biswas
March 17, 2016 11:27 IST
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The BJP's tie-ups with the Bodoland People's Front and the Asom Gana Parishad have incurred the wrath of local party leaders and workers ahead of next month's assembly elections, reports Bivekananda Biswas.

Discontent brewing among sections of leaders and workers in the Bharatiya Janata Party in Assam over its choice of alliance partners threatens to hamper its prospects in the state's assembly polls next month.

On January 19, the BJP forged an alliance with the Bodoland People's Front when the latter's popularity had hit a low point. The alliance caused a stir among local BJP workers.

Political analysts say the BPF does not have much of a hold over the Bodo tribals in the state. In the Bodoland territorial council polls last year, the BPF won 20 seats out of 40 -- 13 less than its tally of 33 in the 2010 election.

A BJP worker in Chirang district said on condition of anonymity, "This time the party had a good chance, but the alliance is a historic blunder. All the non-Bodo people were supporting the BJP because they got a sense of security after the party tackled militancy successfully."

Chirang, along with Kokrajhar, Udalguri and Baksa, is part of the Bodoland territorial area districts in Assam.

From 2012 to 2014, the BTAD areas saw several curfews. In 2012, more than 100 people were killed and at least 50,000 rendered homeless in violence in the BTAD areas.

In December 2014, Bodo rebels gunned down more than 70 Adivasis. After the Narendra Modi government came to power at the Centre, it initiated steps against the militants, forcing them to either surrender or flee the country. Such actions restored normalcy to an extent. Economic activity, too, picked up.

But the BJP's tie-up with the BPF has caused much resentment. Several local BJP leaders have left the party; many others are planning to quit soon.

Some BJP workers have joined the Sanmilita Janagosthiya Aikya Mancha, a party floated by Lok Sabha member Naba Kumar Sarania, popularly known as Hira Sarania, with non-Bodo people in the BTAD areas, following the Bodo violence against Adivasis and other non-Bodo people in 2014.

The SJAM had earlier decided not to field candidates, but following the rift in the BJP, is reconsidering its decision.

The BJP's tie-up with the Asom Gana Parishad, too, has not been received well by some sections of workers in both parties.

One faction in the AGP has formed a new party, the AGP Jatiyatabadi Mancha (AGP Regionalist Forum). Those in the BJP who are against the alliance have formed a new outfit, the Trinamool BJP.

Given the AGP's plank of regionalism, a section in the party could not accept the BJP's move to grant citizenship to Hindu migrants from Bangladesh, who had settled in Assam before December 13, 2014. They contended that the Assam movement and the Assam accord were against illegal Bangladeshi infiltration, be it Hindu or Muslim migrants.

A group of AGP workers from various places across the state allegedly ransacked the party headquarters in Guwahati, demanding that either the alliance with the BJP be scrapped or the AGP be given more seats.

Meanwhile, the BJP workers held demonstrations in Sivasagar, Sarupathar, Tezpur and Bongaigaon.

The BJP has agreed to give 24 out of the total 126 assembly seats in the state to the AGP. These include Kamalpur and Patacharkuchi -- seats that were won by the BJP in the last assembly polls. On the other hand, it has kept Biswanath and Kalaigaon, both of which were bagged by the AGP last time.

There are some others in both parties who are rebelling because they have not been promised tickets. Among them is Prabin Hazarika, the AGP MLA from Biswanath. Kalaigaon's AGP legislator, Mukunda Ram Choudhury, has threatened to contest as an Independent.

Jadab Deka, the BJP MLA from Kamalpur, is trying to field his wife as an Independent. In Tezpur, BJP workers protested after the seat was given to the AGP.

Even amid such opposition, several leaders in the BJP and the AGP are optimistic that everything will work out before the polls. BJP spokesperson Siddhartha Bhattacharya, a former state party chief, said no party was without problems.

The present situation would not last long as the party was reaching out to protesting leaders and explaining to them the significance of the alliance with the AGP, he added.

AGP chief Atul Bora appealed to party workers to understand the 'ground realities' and respect the 'wish' of the people of Assam to dislodge the Congress.

The BJP has so far announced the names of 88 candidates for the assembly polls. These include its chief ministerial candidate Sarbananda Sonowal, former Congress leader Himanta Biswa Sarma who joined the party last year and Lok Sabha member Kamakhya Prasad Tasha, who has been fielded against Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi of the Congress.

The ruling Congress has allied with the United People's Party, backed by the All Bodo Student Union. The newly formed party is said to have a considerable support base in the state. The All India United Democratic Front has said it will not contest 66 out of the total 126 seats in order to help the Congress defeat the BJP and its allies.

Assam goes to the polls on April 4 and April 11.

IMAGE: Preparations for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Guwahati in January.

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Bivekananda Biswas
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