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Assam 2021: Is Congress ‘Self-Sabotaging’ By Uniting With AIUDF?

Congress’s choice to ally with an allegedly ‘pro-illegal immigrant’ party like AIUDF is expected to harm its image.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
 Image of Congress party’s hand symbol, and image of AIUDF’s leader Badruddin Ajmal used for representational purposes.
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With the Assam assembly elections knocking on the door, a desperate Congress party has formed a grand six-party alliance that includes the Left parties, Anchalik Gana Morcha and All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) to oppose the BJP-led NDA.

Notably, before the formation of the Congress-led alliance, the ABP-CVoter opinion poll (1) predicted that the BJP-led NDA would be re-elected in Assam with a comfortable majority. It also predicted that NDA would get 43 percent vote share, while the UPA and the others would possibly end up with 35 percent and 14 percent vote shares respectively.

The survey didn’t include AIUDF within the UPA however, and treats it as a separate entity — it is likely to receive 8 percent vote share.

If calculated together, UPA+AIUDF equals 43 percent. Add the 0.5-1 percent votes of the marginal Left parties — this puts UPA a bit ahead of the NDA as of now.
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Possibility of Hindu-Muslim Polarisation

However, voters don’t get transferred this way. The Badruddin Ajmal-led party is viewed as a party representing the ‘illegal’ Bengali Muslim immigrants of Assam by the Assamese Hindus. (Importantly, not all Bengali Muslims are considered illegal immigrants.)

Recently, Ajmal has made a highly inappropriate statement saying that “if BJP comes to power in 2024 in Delhi, it would demolish 3500 mosques in the country”.

This controversial statement is aimed to massively polarise the 34 percent Assamese Muslims only for the benefit of AIUDF — which has been on the decline due to the shift of a section of Muslims, its vote bank, towards the Congress.

If there is Muslim polarisation, no doubt, there would be Hindu polarisation too. It has to be mentioned that both the Congress and the CPI(M) have, in the past, called the AIUDF a ‘communal’ party — and accused it of ‘helping’ the RSS-BJP in the state.

So, the Congress, undoubtedly, is likely to lose a section of the anti-BJP Hindu Assamese votes — which may shift towards the two newly-formed regional parties, the Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) and the Raijor Dal. In Barak Valley, the Congress is expected to lose a large share of Bengali Hindus to the BJP.

The Legacy Of IMDT Act Still Haunts Congress

One of the reasons for the defeat of the Congress in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections and the 2016 assembly elections was the perceived image of the party representing mainly the concerns of the Muslims, particularly the Bengali-speaking Muslim immigrants. The Indira Gandhi-led Congress government's decision to form the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act (IMDT), which was struck down in 2005 by the Supreme Court, bolstered this image.

This act was perceived by the local indigenous communities to be actually ‘helping’ the illegal migrants as a result of the Congress’s attempts to create its own vote bank in the state, thereby undermining their interests.

To be fair, late former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s own charisma and the failure of the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) — now a junior ally of the BJP — to properly govern the state and to secure the Assamese interests, were the main reasons behind the Congress rule from 2001-2016. But when the people of the state found BJP as a viable alternative, they started shifting towards the saffron party, moving away from the Congress.

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BJP’s Own Style Of Regionalism In Assam

Regionalism has always had a strong impact on the politics of Assam. The decline of AGP, the state’s only regional party that came to power twice defeating the Congress, doesn’t mean that regionalism has lost its steam in the state’s politics — the entry of AJP and Raijor Dal indicates this. Both the regional parties have shown a willingness to ally together, but aren’t eager to join the grand old party-led Grand Alliance.

Importantly, the man who played a crucial role in nullifying the controversial IMDT act was chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal, who was then in the influential All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and later in AGP. In fact, BJP has been promoting its own style of regionalism in the state — and this was also the reason behind the party’s ascension to power for the first time in 2016. With the new Land Policy in 2019, the state government had distributed 1 lakh land pattas in 2020 to the landless indigenous communities of the state. Another 1 lakh land pattas were distributed to the locals in one go for the first time on 23 January 2021 — where Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself was present.

Significantly, the ABP-CVoter survey said that 66 percent and 70 percent are satisfied with CM Sonowal and the state government respectively.

The same survey also pointed out that 68 percent are satisfied with the Centre while 70 percent are satisfied with Modi’s work.

These figures, as of now, point to Modi’s popularity and also of the Sonowal-led BJP government — and it has to do with BJP’s own style of regionalism, which somehow seems to be helping the party blunt the anti-CAA sentiments politically.

BJP’s Silence On Implementation Of Clause-6 Of Assam Accord

However, the BJP leadership is keeping silent on the implementation of Clause-6 of the Assam Accord — despite the submission of the report by the Centre-appointed committee in February 2020. The clause ensures the protection of the indigenous communities, and parties like AJP are repeatedly attacking the BJP for its silence — and its failure to implement as of now.

Clause-6 is a thorn in the path of the saffron party, ahead of the elections — and it has the potential to damage the prospects of the BJP, if it’s not dealt with deftly.

No doubt that issues related to regionalism still matter in Assam and in such a scenario, the Congress’s decision to ally with an allegedly ‘pro-illegal immigrant’ party like AIUDF is expected to harm their image — not only in the upcoming elections but also in the long run.

(Sagarneel Sinha is a freelance writer from Tripura who writes on politics, foreign affairs and Indian mythology. He tweets @SagarneelSinha. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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