March 22, 2014

IN DIRE STRAITS


THE AGP MAY DRAW A BLANK IN THE 2014 POLLS

Courtesy: Asom Gana Parishad
Formed in the 1980s after years of peaceful protests against the settling of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in Assam, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) was once, the most powerful political party in north eastern state. Under the leadership of the young and dynamic student leader Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, it swept the 1986 state assembly polls winning a whopping 67 of the 126 seats; Mahanta created history as he was sworn in as the youngest Chief Minister in the country's political history at that time. Although the Congress managed to come back to power in the early 90s, the AGP again emerged as the largest party in the 1996 polls. That would be the last time that the regional outfit would be in power in Dispur. In 2001, the INC under Tarun Gogoi comfortably crossed the half way. Thanks to differences between top leader, allegations of corruption against Mahanta and his alleged role in the cold blooded murder of relatives of several ULFA terrorists, the AGP's tally went down to 26 seats that year. The party has, in fact never been able to replicate its early success and won a meagre 10 seats in the last assembly polls. In the General Elections too, its performance has been no better. A part of the several Third Front governments in the 1990s, it managed to win just one seat in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls which it fought as a constituent of the NDA. The crossing over of its senior leaders to the BJP in the last two years, the rise of newer rivals and its continued failure in its electoral campaigns in the state has put a question on the party's very existence. With many, predicting the AGP to draw a blank in 2014, the question arises as to whether it is still a relevant player in the state politics, forget the national scene.

Probably, the biggest reason that the AGP finds itself in such a big mess today is that it is it has not been able to change its ideology with times. Like other regional parties in different parts of the country - the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) in Goa and the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD) in Uttarakhand which were formed after mass agitations, the Gana Parishad has never 'refined' its ideology to stay relevant. As such, it has not been able to attract the youth, especially those born post the Assam Movement. Secondly, the party does not have effective leadership. While the Congress under Gogoi has consistently moved from strength to strength, Mahanta's popularity has seen several ups and downs over the years. Besides, the allegations of corruption and his 'indictment' in the Sakia commission's report on the secret killings of ULFA sympathizers levied against Prafulla Kumar has tarnished his image. Another big factor for the party's woes has been deep rooted factionalism in its rank. In fact, the regional party was itself formed by the amalgamation of several groups fighting for the Assamese cause way back in October 1985. In 1991, several top leaders left the outfit to form the Natun Asom Gana Parishad (NAGP) only to join back an year later. In 2005, the regional outfit expelled its own leader Mahanta for indulging in anti-party activities. However on 14th October 2008, exactly 22 years after the AGP was formed, all of its splinter groups including Mahanta's Asom Gana Parishad (Progressive), Atul Bora's Trinamool Gana Parishad and Pabindra Deka's Purbanchaliya Loka Parishad came back to renew the party and fight the Congress at Golaghat. The unity though was short lived as youth leader Sarbananda Sonorwal joined the BJP three years later. Lastly, the rise of other sub-regional players like the All India United Democratic Party (AIUDF) and the Bodoland People's Front (BPF) has further weakened the AGP. These parties have solid vote bank which is unlike to switch loyalties over to the Gana Parishad any time in the near future.

Even before the 2014 polls, the party's positions has remained weak and its future looks bleak. Earlier, the party had joined hand with several other regional parties in the region to form the North East Regional Political Front (Link). However, not much development has happened in that regard ever since its inception, prompting many to ask whether the 'alliance' exists anymore or not. Meanwhile, its only MP - Joseph Toppo had resigned after there were indications that the AGP would not renominate him from the Tezpur parliamentary seat. He was later placated and given the party's ticket. In fact, one has to keep in mind that it was the split in the Muslim votes in 2009 between the Congress and the AIUDF that helped the AGP win the seat. Also, at that time, the outfit had fought the elections as a part of the NDA. However this time around, it has decided to go all alone. In another jolt to the party, two of its senior leaders - former president Chandra Mohan Patowary and former minister Hitendra Nath Goswami switched allegiance to the saffron camp. The Assamese outfit was conspicuous by its absence at the launching of the Third Front, after initially hobnobbing with the Left (Link). Well, there is absolutely nothing to indicate that the AGP will perform will well. Most Opinion polls show that the Congress will continue to dominate state politics here in 2014 too while the AGP may even fail to open its account. In fact I would not be surprised if, like in 2004, it fails to win any seats (Link). A bad performance will spell doom; more defections can be expected and the AGP may slip to single digits in 2016 state polls.


Constituency
AGP Candidate
2009 Winner
1
Kokrajhar
BPF
2
Dhubri
AIUDF
3
Barpeta
Congress
4
Gauhati
Birendra Prasad Baishya
BJP
5
Mangaldoi
BJP
6
Tezpur
Joseph Toppo
AGP
7
Nowgong
Mridula Barkakoty
BJP
8
Kaliabor
Dr Arun Sarma
BJP
9
Autonomous District
Will Support HSDP
Congress
10
Silchar
Congress
11
Karimganj
Congress
12
Lakhimpur
Hariprasad Dihingia
Congress
13
Jorhat
Pradip Hazarika
Congress
14
Dibrugarh
Anup Phukan
Congress