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EDITORIAL: Assam: For Cong Or…?

Mr. Gaikhangam’s elation at the stupendous show put up by the Congress in the recently held Assembly election in Assam did not come as a surprise to us and we are sure it did not surprise those who have more than a passing interest in electoral politics of the country especially in the North East region. Tarun Gogoi has scripted one of the most spectacular electoral successes for the Congress in Assam, notching up a hat trick of victory, but more significant than this is the complete annihilation of the Opposition parties, particularly the AGP, which was once a powerful political party and which was deemed to breathe and live the spirit of the Asomiya, literally and figuratively.

Prafulla Kumar Mahanta along with his onetime trusted lieutenant, the late Bhrigu Phukan, rode the popular sentiments of the Assamese people and managed to give a new definition and new dimension to student politics and the foreigners issue in Assam. It was on the saddle of the Quit Assam slogan, targeted at the migrants from Bangladesh and under the shadow of the Nellie massacre, the intense agitation launched by the All Assam Students’ Union in the late 70s and early 80s as well as the birth of the ULFA, that Mahanta and his men formed the Asom Gana Parishad and managed to make their way to the seat of power, casting aside veteran political figures like Hiteswar Saikia of the Congress. In short it was on the premise of Assamese identity and the intensifying battle of turf between what was generally understood as the interest and rights of the indigenous people of Assam and the migrants, that the AGP threw its hat into the election arena. Twice, not once, the AGP under Prafulla Kumar Mahanta was voted to power reducing the Congress to a fringe player and the transformation from leading a students’ movement to one charting the course of a State was complete.

Tarun Gogoi, who was catapulted to the hot seat after the Congress managed to inch its way back to the political centre stage in Assam after the 2001 Assembly election, has managed to take full advantage of a divided AGP and a more confused Opposition parties, including the BJP and the AIUDF, to steer the Congress to office for the third consecutive term. A number of political commentators have already gone to town with their observation that the surprise package was not the victory of the Congress, but the manner in which it won by such a huge margin. This is certainly right, for while the general prediction was that the Congress would emerge as the single largest party after the election, no one would have placed a bet on the huge mandate that it received and the wash out of the Opposition parties, particularly the AGP, notwithstanding the ‘EVM tampering conspiracy theory’ floated by PK Mahanta. We are more than sure that even the Congress leaders including Tarun Gogoi, Bhubaneswar Kalita and others must have also been taken by surprise over the huge mandate the party received.

As the president of the MPCC (I) and as a political veteran, who has seen the Congress go through different phases of ups and downs, especially after Nipamacha and company parted ways and then grabbed power from the redoubtable Rishang Keishing in the winter of 1997 and the subsequent emergence of the MSCP, Mr. Gaikhangam surely knows and understands the phases under which all political parties go through in a multi-party, Parliamentary Democracy like India. However, he may not stand the test of mastering or understanding the dynamics of electoral politics outside Manipur and it was typical political speak, when he said that Manipur too would undergo the same route as Assam in the next hustings here and notch up a hat trick of wins. We say this because apart from the unpredictability of the average Indian voter, the jury is still out there on the deciding factor that ultimately gave the Congress the mandate it received in Assam.

Corruption is one issue which has become the rallying point of the average Indian and this was amply demonstrated during the agitation launched by Anna Hazare, demanding more teeth in the proposed Lok Pal Bill. Assam was in fact the most vocal and the first State in the North East region to throw its weight behind Hazare’s campaign and it defies logic and explanation if we take into consideration the fact that corruption charges were grossly overlooked in the just held election in Assam. The message of the voter was a clear indicator that they are ready to take corruption in their stride, if it comes along with development and welfare of the people. To put it crudely, it means that to the average Assamese, it is okay if one kilometer of road is black topped, even if the fund released was supposed to cover 1.5 kilometer. This is where the dicey part comes in and one is not sure whether the result should be seen as the failure of the Opposition parties rather than the success of the Congress or not.

We hope Mr. Gaikhangam had done some home work over this question before he went on record and predicted a similar route for the MPCC (I) in the next hustings. There are also valuable lessons for the MPP to learn from the AGP experience.  This is about the sound thrashing that the AGP and the other Opposition parties received at the hustings, but the sense of loss or helplessness is acute, when we look at how wrong RTI activist and crusader against corruption Akhil Gogoi got it. Maybe, Akhil Gogoi should stay away from predicting election results for the time being and leave it to the professional psephologists.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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