Perhaps, an alternative to this could be ‘green politics’, a movement against privatization of natural resources in Assam and the rights of local people over their own land, a concern which would cut across religious and ethnic lines. More than anything, we need to protect our environment and natural resources for only if we survive can an election be ever held.
Much before the Citizenship (Amendment) Act caught the imagination of the rest of the country, or Shaheen Bagh became a symbol of dissent, Assam was already enflamed with protests over the Bill (now an Act). Unlike most political rallies which lure people from rural areas with easy cash and the odd trip to town, these rallies were well-attended and saw the participation of people from a cross-section of the society. Internet bans and subsequent curfews followed, Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal allayed people’s fears by assuring that Assam would be kept out of it. That promise never materialized but the Assamese people seemed to have forgiven it all, with the BJP’s roaring success in the panchayat elections on the heels of the anti-CAA protests.
This also led to an important question: Was there really an alternative to the BJP for the people to vote for? The AIUDF is widely seen as a party that exclusively caters to Muslim ‘interests’ and the Congress was a weak shadow of its former self. The time was right for a political party built on the values of the movement. Just as the AGP was born from the ashes of the Assam Agitation, which, largely, had popular support in Assam, the new political outfits grew out of the anti-CAA movement, the Anchalik Gana Morcha, Raijor Dal (RD) and the Assam Jatiyo Parishad (AJP). The first has entered into an alliance with the Congress and the AIUDF for the upcoming Assembly elections, while the latter two parties have joined hands as an anti-CAA forum to stall the ruling BJP. There is little doubt that the RD and AJP were weary of the division of the anti-CAA votes in Upper Assam, hence, their distance from the Cong-Mahajot alliance. While the RD’s chief adviser Dr Hiren Gohain distancing himself from the party with a cryptic note is an affirmation of his belief in fighting the larger enemy – the BJP, the RD saw it as political suicide in Upper Assam where the AIUDF is seen as the party solely protecting the interest of Bengal-origin Muslims. With this move, it is considered that the RD and the AJP, despite being up against the ruling-BJP, may just prove to be more than a thorn in the flesh for the BJP. The recent alleged attack on Lurinjyoti Gogoi’s convoy in Upper Assam is seen to be another reflection of the discomfort of opposing forces towards the recent entrants.
The question though is: Would the RD-AJP combine be able to counteract the organizational powerhouse that the BJP is, not to forget its financial clout? While the RD’s charismatic leader Akhil Gogoi is slated to do well in Sivasagar from where he is contesting the election, it would take more than that to stall the BJP in Upper Assam. Over the years, the RD’s popular base has shifted towards Lower Assam, from where it mostly draws its followers now. Earlier, it had a firm base in Upper Assam districts like Lakhimpur, thanks to its anti-dam initiatives and grassroots resistance. Additionally, although it has always enjoyed support from rural farmers, it has failed to charm the middle-class, which has bonded well with the BJP over its promises of parivartan. The generation before us may well have been concerned with larger issues but the present one is too busy thinking of EMIs and IIT coaching classes to spare a thought about ‘revolution’, and thus, the BJP’s promises of ‘Andolan-mukt Assam’ may well strike a chord with it (never mind the fact that Assam BJP is choc-a-bloc with AGP leaders who have ridden high on the wave of Assam Accord and ‘andolan’).
The AJP has the AASU behind it and may well prove to be emotive for voters in Upper Assam, and there are many who feel betrayed by the BJP’s promises over the Assam Accord and the CAA. But we are well-aware that translating that into votes may be a different ball game altogether. Voters would need to see the combine as a real, viable alternative, and not a temporary arrangement. Coming to the Congress, though it has upped the ante on its social media initiatives, till now, the BJP’s forte, if you compare the candidate list with the latter’s, a clear pattern emerges: despite being in power, the BJP has taken its chances with new leaders, while the Congress has mostly played safe. To its credit, in the Brahmaputra Valley, especially in middle and lower Assam, its alliance with the AIUDF promises to pay rich dividends, albeit at the cost of polarization. The BJP, quick to consolidate its voter base in lower Assam, has spared no effort to taint this alliance with the ‘communal’ card, never mind its own machinations in the Barak Valley, where it is attempting to do the exact same thing, only with Hindu Bengali voters.
Additionally, though systems such as direct benefit transfer in government schemes were initiated by earlier Congress governments, they failed to capitalize on the same with the same zeal as the latter BJP governments. Quick to understand the value of direct cash transfers to the rural population, they launched new schemes such as Orunudoi and strengthened old schemes such as widow/old-age pensions and PMAY. This is not to say that the system has proven to be foolproof, just a reduction in the number of middlemen who could siphon off the money meant for the rural populace. Also, the BJP has successfully won over a huge chunk of Assam’s population, the Adivasi community, traditional Congress voters, now firmly with the former. It has understood the number game – tribal votes + the Adivasi community = a strong presence in Assam. While the Raijor Dal was once aligned with Mishing politics, and the Adivasi community a Congress stronghold, both the influences have waned over time; a Hindi heartland party, with little presence in Assam, through not-so-subtle human engineering and the backup of the RSS, its dedicated umbrella organization, is looking invincible. Perhaps, an alternative to this could be ‘green politics’, a movement against privatization of natural resources in Assam and the rights of local people over their own land, a concern which would cut across religious and ethnic lines. More than anything, we need to protect our environment and natural resources for only if we survive can an election be ever held.