Cong a diminishing force in Assam with no bailout in sight

Just 10 years ago, it was almost impossible for any hardcore BJP supporter to think of Assam as a saffron party-dominated state. In the 2011 Assembly election, Congress was riding high with 78 seats in the 126-member assembly while the BJP was languishing at single digit with only five seats in their bag.

However, today, the map of Assam politics has changed drastically. The popularity of Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has forced Congress to fight for retaining its existence in the state, which seems to be quite a tough task for the grand old party in the current scenario.

After the debacle in last year’s election, even after forging an alliance with the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), the Congress party seems to be continuously losing its ground in Assam.

The first blow to the Congress came when Sushmita Dev, former All India Mahila Congress president and the daughter of Congress stalwart Santosh Mohan Dev crossed over to the Trinamool Congress, leaving the state unit of the party in a complete blank spot.

There were differences between Dev and the party state unit over the distribution of tickets and seat sharing with the AIUDF.

However, she had then categorically denied rumours of leaving Congress. After a few months, when Sushmita Dev switched to Trinamool Congress overnight, the party faced a massive blow, especially in the southern Assam.

What’s more surprising is even after a year Dev left the party, the Congress’ state unit could not reorganize the district committee in her home constituency — Silchar.

In some private discussions, Dev acknowledged that the party’s future is dim in Assam, and the top leadership is also “very reluctant” to take tough decisions for its revival.

After BJP resumed power in Assam, Shashikanta Das, a congress MLA, straightaway went to CM Sarma’s office, took his blessings, and openly announced his support for the BJP.

Though the Congress immediately suspended him from the party, Das is enjoying an MLA post. Not to mention, his act had further embarrassed the Congress.

Rupjyoti Kurmi, four-time MLA and once an active voice in the party also switched to the BJP alleging that Congress has not given him due respect even after his continuous good performance in the consecutive elections.

Sushanta Burgohain, another Congress MLA, followed Kurmi and went to the saffron camp. Both of them won with BJP tickets in the by-elections.

As AIUDF is no longer with Congress, the party is set to lose more seats if elections are held today.

Meanwhile, the Congress party also broke its alliance with the AIUDF, though the strategy behind this move is still unclear even among the party leaders and workers.

In Muslim-dominated areas, Congress could do well in the 2011 state election because of its alliance with Badruddin Ajmal’s party.

For example, in Assam’s Barak valley region, the BJP could win only 6 out of 15 seats while the Congress-AIUDF combine won the rest. Assam Pradesh Congress Committee working president Kamalakhya Dey Purkayastha could win from the North Karimganj assembly constituency only after Ajmal openly supported him and appealed to the Muslim voters to vote for Purkayastha.

In the Rajya Sabha election, the party suspended its prominent Muslim face and MLA Siddeque Ahmed for anti-party activities. Following his suspension, Ahmed not only pointed his gun towards Congress leaders and the party in charge, but also openly expressed his happiness as it was an opportunity for him to come closer to the ruling party.

The Presidential election in July brought more trouble for the Congress as it was alleged that many of the party members cast their vote in favour of NDA nominee Droupadi Murmu — who eventually became the President, instead of Opposition candidate Yashwant Sinha.

Assam Congress president Bhupen Borah and state in-charge of the party Jitendra Singh warned of stern punishment against those ‘traitors’. However, even after nearly two-and-half months, the party could hardly take any action.

The Congress has been a dominant force in Assam for much of the three-and-half decades since 1980.

From the 2016 Assembly election in the state, the Congress failed miserably to take on different socio-political issues in the right direction.

The BJP, on the other hand, put significant efforts into mobilizing the people from grassroot level and made fruitful alliances with different potential socio-political forces of the state.

The party’s efforts in the state were further augmented when Narendra Modi (as Prime Minister) came to power in the Centre in 2014, and incumbent Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma joined BJP the following year.

Sarma had formulated a strategy to corner Congress by terming it to be a Muslim vote-bank-based party, making the grand old party lose its Hindu votes’ share significantly. On the other hand, a large section of the Muslim population is now rallying behind the Ajmal-led AIUDF.

In the coming years, Congress may lose more of its leaders and MLAs to BJP as Sarma has openly declared that many Congressmen in Assam have been keeping relations with him.

The reluctance and confusion to handle the situation by the top leadership have made the situation more critical.

Therefore, there is a high possibility that Congress in Assam may shrink even more in near future and completely mislay its resemblance in a state which gave the party many stalwarts such as Hiteswar Saikia, Tarun Gogoi, and Santosh Mohan Dev.




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