The decline of Congress in Assam has led to a vacuum in opposition politics

By Sagarneel Sinha

It has been a year since the results of the Assam assembly elections were declared and the BJP made history in this northeastern state by winning for the state in a row. During the election campaign, the Opposition in the form of the Grand Alliance led by the Congress presented itself as the only alternative to the National Democratic Alliance led by the BJP. Although the Grand Alliance was able to receive only 1% fewer votes than the NDA, the election dealt a blow to the hopes of the Opposition, who were desperate to defeat the saffron-led alliance anyway.

The defeat has only amplified the infighting within the old big party, which has yet to recover from the shock of the defeat. In just one year, two top party leaders, Sushmita Dev, a former president of the All India Mahila Congress, and Ripun Bora, a former president of the State Congress, left the party to join the Trinamool Congress, a party based in West Bengal. There are still leaders within the party who are not happy and are looking for greener pastures.

It is an open secret that the big party faces credibility problems for allying itself with Dhubri Lok Sabha MP Badruddin Ajmal, led by the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), a party that is seen as communal by English-speaking people. Assamese Hindu and by the tribes, mostly Hindus. The Congressional leadership in their desperation to fight the BJP seems to be confused about AIUDF. Last year, the big old party broke alliance with the AIUDF after assembly polls, where the party performed poorly in Upper Assam and other Assamese-dominated areas. But in a matter of months, the party reverted to an alliance with Ajmal’s party for this year’s Rajya Sabha polls, but their candidate Ripun, who is now on TMC, lost the polls.

The United Opposition had the numbers, but due to the cross vote of 8 MLAs, where the majority belonged to AIUDF, the Congress did not send their representative to the Upper House. Because of this, the party has no representative from Assam and no representative from the Northeast region in the Upper House. As the alliance with AIUDF failed again, the leaders of the state Congress again began to criticize Ajmal and his party. The party fails to match the tactics of its former strong leader, Himanta Biswa Sarma, the current chief minister of Assam and the BJP’s dominant leader in the northeast region. The BJP’s victory in the second seat shows that Himanta still has contacts with a part of the leaders of the Congress and even the AIUDF. That the arrogance of central Congress leaders, particularly Rahul Gandhi, forced Himanta to join the BJP is one of the main reasons why the party, in its once stronghold, is currently paying big. State Congressional leaders know this but continue to deny the reality.

Congress, the main opposition party, is giving up space and there is a growing vacuum. Voters, who are against the current saffron dispensation, are looking for alternatives. This was seen in recent Guwahati Municipal Corporations where Aam Aadmi Party and Assam Jatiya Parishad opened their accounts but the big old party failed to open their account. Of the 60 seats, the BJP won impressively taking 49, in addition to the three seats it won unopposed, while its ally Assam Gana Paris had won 6 seats out of 60. Significantly, the two lone AAP and AJP candidates belonged to the Muslim community. Although Congress was somehow able to hold onto the second position, the AAP was only 3% behind the big old party, which garnered 13% of the vote.

The AAP is emboldened by this performance. However, it is too early to say that the party is on its way to replace the great old party. On the other hand, there is Raijor Dal, a new regional party formed in 2020 just like AJP, which is trying to gain a foothold in the state, particularly in Assamese-dominated areas. Last year, the Sibsagar MLA Akhil Gogoi-led party came in second place pushing Congress to third place in Mariani’s seat by poll. In the secondary vote for the Thowra seat, the party was in a close contest with the big old party. Both Mariani and Thowra are in Upper Assam and these two constituencies were strongholds of the Congress, which even won them in assembly elections last year.

Clearly, this shows that opposition voters in the state look beyond Congress. TMC is also in the running to take advantage of this situation. However, the great old party still has influence among Muslims, who make up 34% of the state’s population. It is in competition with the AIUDF, which has been in decline for the last 3-4 years but has a new life after gaining 16 seats, an increase of 3 seats compared to the 2016 assembly elections, due to the alliance with Congress.

There is a widening vacuum in the Opposition due to the failure of Congress, but any other party that attempts to fill it is challenged to completely decimate the great old party, which is currently in no position to challenge the behemoth BJP but at least at the same time, it is not completely vacating the Opposition space. As opposition parties try to secure second place, the BJP under Himanta Biswa Sarma continues to dominate the northeastern state of Assam, which has now become a BJP stronghold. (IPA service)

Post-Congress Decline in Assam Has Led to Void in Opposition Politics first appeared on IPA Newspack.

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