Cong in a Teacup

    09-Mar-2021   
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Congress is up for an uphill task in Assam. Depleting vote base and dissensions have put the party in a tight corner. By forging ties with Islamist AIUDF, the party wants to fall back on identity politics  

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General Secretary, AICC, Priyanka Vadra plucking tea leaves
amid campaigning for Assam Assembly Polls
 
 
The grand old party last ruled the north-eastern state for 15 long years under veteran Tarun Gogoi. But once out of power, Congress is losing its ground further.
 
Look at the records: Revolts, desertion and dissensions within the Congress ranks have always harmed the party’s prospects. Talk about infighting and marginalising of genuine mass-level leaders in Assam Congress – one name comes to mind – Himanta Biswa Sarma.
 
Shikha Sharma, a social worker in Guwahati, says, "Once Himanta Biswa Sarma was shown the door, thanks to Rahul Gandhi's arrogance, the Congress downfall was imminent. Now, there is desperation. The so-called Opposition unity by taking AIUDF is not acceptable to many in the State.”
 
Sarma is not only a powerful Minister; he is, in fact, one of the most trusted aides of BJP high command in the Northeast.
 
Having contested 122 seats of the 126 in 2016, Congress could win only 26. Congress poll strategists in Assam point out that the vote share was 31 per cent as against 29.5 of the BJP. For its part, the saffron party had contested 84 seats and could win 60. Notably, both the then BJP allies – Asom Gana Parishad and Bodo People's Front (BPF), had done well, winning 14 and 12 seats, respectively. Of course, the BPF has walked out of NDA and joined hands with Congress in 2021.
 
This time around, Congress has announced an alliance with the AIUDF. There is still scepticism despite the fact that AIUDF had won 13 per cent of votes and 13 seats. In 17 constituencies the BJP had won, the combined votes polled by Congress and AIUDF was more than that of the saffron party. But everyone does not want AIUDF. "By allying with AIUDF of Badruddin Ajmal, the Congress has almost given up entire battle in the Barak Valley that houses 15 constituencies as Bengali Hindus have been certainly pushed into the arms of the BJP," says Silchar-based Congress worker Shyamelendu Purkayastha. Of course, the BJP is smiling over the developments. "We have worked for smaller communities like Rabhas and Kacharis… Congress always focused on the vote bank. Our party has got a strong grip among smaller communities,"Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal told 'Organiser'.
 
In the Congress camp, key leaders have quit the party. Senior leader Anil Raja quit alleging that the Assam Congress is losing its "prestige, faithfulness and acceptability" in common people's minds. Another leader Akshay Kumar Rajkhowa also resigned.
 
As part of their electoral strategy, the Congress has pitched in top leaders, including Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi. Priyanka even plucked tea leaves and made the mega announcement of a new law that would nullify the Citizenship Amendment Act. She also pledged five lakh government jobs.
 
In desperation to win friends, Congress leaders have reached out to newly floated Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) and Raijor Dal.Nagaon MP Pradyut Bordoloi also said no candidate would be fielded against Akhil Gogoi (Raijor Dal) and Lurin Jyoti Gogoi (AJP). However, both these parties have outright rejected an offer to join a Congress-led alliance showing things are perhaps not so smooth for the opportunistic politics on the ground.