November 23, 2014

CAN CONGRESS RETAIN ASSAM?

AFTER MH & HARYANA, WILL THE INC LOSE ANOTHER BASTION

There are some uncanny similarities between the political conditions that were prevalent in the states of Maharashtra and Haryana just before the two states went to the polls in October 2014 and those in Assam today which will see elections in the first half of 2016. All three states are traditional Congress bastions - the INC was in power for 15 years in Maharashtra in alliance with the NCP; it held on to power for a decade in Haryana and has won three consecutive terms in Assam. Besides, in all the above mentioned states, the BJP and its allies did exceedingly well in the last General Elections, decimating the Congress. That's not all. Like Tarun Gogoi in Dispur, there was widespread discontent within the party over the performance of its incumbent CMs - Prithviraj Chauhan in Maharashtra and Bhupinder Singh Hooda in Haryana. Now considering that the Congress was shunted out in the two states about a month ago, will the grand old party also be shown the door in Dispur.

Last week, BJP leader and MLA Jadab Chandra Dekha in an interview claimed that about 20 Congress MLAs in the north eastern state are in touch with the saffron outfit and may join it, thereby reducing the Gogoi regime to a minority. Ever since the big polls in May, there have been murmurs that a certain section of the INC MLAs in the state was keen to replace the incumbent CM who has been seen as 'ineffective'. In fact, some months ago, a delegation of 30 odd Congress MLAs under the leadership of Himanta Biswa Sarma met the state governor and asked him to sack the CM. However, the party high command in Delhi has firmly stood behind Gogoi, rejecting all talks of a change in leadership in Dispur in the near future. It seems that the Congress is sitting on a time bomb which can explode, anytime.

What worries me is that the 120 year odd party refuses to learn any lessons from the last one year in which it has lost election after election to its nemesis - Narendra Modi and his BJP. After losing the battle for much of the heart land in December last year, the Congress under Rahul Gandhi was reduced to a mere 44 seats in May last year; today, it is not even the principal Opposition to the NDA regime at the Centre. In October this year, it was decimated in Maharashtra and Haryana. Opinion polls predict a battering for the grand old party, both in Jharkhand and Jammu Kashmir which is corroborated to a large extent by the results of the General Elections. Today, Assam and Karnataka are the only two big states where the party is still in power. In spite of this, Rahul Gandhi and his coterie continue to wield all powers while senior leaders who have spoken against Baba have been gagged. For many, the writing is on the wall; the Congress is all set to lose Assam in the next one and a half years. And the worst part about it, at least from the party's perspective is that it is going to lose it not to the AGP or the AIUDF but the BJP.

Many believe that the writing on the wall is clear. However, is there anything that the Congress can do to win a fourth term in Assam? Although that may be ruled out, the INC can take some steps to at least cut down its losses. Firstly, Tarun Gogoi has to go. Yes, the 78 year old CM has to step down and the party has to nominate a younger leader who is acceptable to all factions in the state. Besides, such a move will also cut down anti-incumbency to some extent. Secondly, with the polls scheduled in early 2016, the party needs to get into action and improve the law and order situation in the state. The riots that have happened here in the past one year need to stop and the guilty must be brought to the book so that the people's faith in the administration is restored. Finally, the only way to stop the Modi bandwagon, as seen the Bihar by-polls is by stitching up alliances. The Congress should tie-up with the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the Bodoland People's Front (BPF) which have pockets of influence in some regions. Considering that the AGP is fighting for its political existence, it should not have any problems in allying itself with the INC even though the two have been rivals in the past. However, the big catch will be Badruddin Ajmal's All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) which is the second largest party in the present assembly. With the outfit drawing its support from the Muslims, it should be a 'natural' ally of the Congress in its fight against the 'communal' forces. The big question though is, whether the AGP or the BPF or the AIUDF are willing to share the dais with leaders from the grand old party?