Assam Assembly Election 2021: As Raijor Dal and AJP 'friendlies' near, time will tell if disaster or masterstroke

Editor's note: Regionalism or more effectively Assamese sub-nationalism has always been part and parcel of politics in Assam whether this idea is in vogue or in retreat. The ideology has passed through many political complexities and survived various intensities but the road ahead is filled with many challenges including its survivability. This series examines the state of Assamese sub-nationalism ahead of the Assembly elections and its place in the evolving political dynamics of the present times.

With less than a week for the first phase of voting to begin, all parties — new and old — are campaigning hard in Assam to make a mark in the forthcoming Assembly election. The new political parties — Raijor Dal and Assam Jatiya Parishad — that were formed on the backdrop of the anti-CAA are facing their first electoral battle in this state election. Although the election is an opportunity for these parties to prove their political mettle, the run-up to the poll has already been filled with myriad confusions, claims, accusations and questionable tactics.

Raijor Dal, AJP up against each other

On many occasions, these two parties are almost giving the impression that they are deviating from the very essence of Assamese sub-nationalism, which is the very ethos of their existence. Rather than uniting, these parties are putting up candidates in a few constituencies against each other but are both defending their decision to do that.

"In order to prevent the AGP and the Congress simultaneously, we have strategically put up candidates for friendlies against Raijar Dal in some constituencies. Unlike what people are saying this kind of friendlies is nothing new in politics. We have so many instances where parties put up dummy candidates. In fact, in the last Assembly election in 2016 in order to defeat Dhurubajyoti Gogoi in the Duliajan Assembly constituency, 10 dummy candidates from the Ahom community were made to fight the polls. These friendlies are nothing but part of the larger strategy," said Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) president Lurinjyoti Gogoi.

AJP president Lurinjyoti Gogoi taking part in a party rally at Duliajan Assembly constituency in Assam. Image courtesy Lurinjyoti Gogoi's Facebook page

Raijor Dal spokesperson Gyanashree Bora called it "wrong" to assume that the newly formed regional parties are on the wrong-footing.

"There are two things -- contesting the election opposing a person or group and friendly contest with mutual understandings. We have never fielded a candidate against the AJP. At the grassroots level, of course, there are various difficulties. However, we are moving towards a solution at the grassroots as well as the central level. There is no hesitation here. We have fielded candidates from both parties in some places. The decision of the AJP is their party decision, and it is their right. But we want to make it clear that we have given aspirations to the Raijor Dal by emphasising the grassroots and defeating the BJP, the main enemy of the Assamese nation. Our vested interests are not involved there. We are already committed to our goal," said Bora.

What exactly is on their minds is difficult to guess until the results are out on 2 May. While a bird's eye view sends out the impression that they might end up ruining each other's chances by eating into each other's votes, a deeper examination although a hypothesis cannot be ruled out entirely.

In the Assembly constituencies of Rongapara, Dhing, Bihupuri, Rangia, Tezpur, Mahmora, Chabua, Raha and Rupohihat both AJP and Raijor Dal have put candidates against each other. While in the constituencies of Rongapara, Dhing, Bihupuri, Rangia, Mahmora and Rupohihat, the BJP has nominated its candidates, in the remaining seats of Tezpur, Chabua and Raha its regional partner Asom Gana Parishad has put up candidates.

It is possible that the new political parties may have fancied their chance that they might possibly attract votes from the ruling coalition in these constituencies and that might make things a bit easy for Congress. There is of course a chance for a post-poll coalition if such a need arises to form an anti-CAA government if numbers favour it no matter what the narrative is before the polls. It is unlikely that either of the two parties is not hoping for a win in these seats no matter what their claim in public might be.

"In today's date, our confidence is that we will form the government. But we will have to talk about it. It is not a decision that can be taken in advance. We will check on different permutations and combinations. However, our priority will be if we can form a government independently by uniting all the regional forces together. Our primary focus will be how we can exclude the national political parties and the communal forces from forming the government," said Gogoi.

The Raijor Dal spokesperson also conveyed similar thoughts. "Let the votes be counted first and then let us get the results. After that, the right decision will be taken in the interest of the Assamese through the discussion of the party leaders," she said.

Political pundits are best hoping that there is some thought behind this move.

"It is self-destructive but there is an intention behind it also. It has to be noted that they have not done in all the seats but in a few. Where they have done so, there has to be some reasoning behind it which we may not know. Raijar Dal cannot be called totally naive although they are inexperienced when it comes to elections. From the organisation itself, they have been observing various political equations and are also looking to form new political equations. In previous polls, the people who are involved with Raijar Dal have not contested polls but they were not inactive either. In every step, they take there is some reasoning and this time as well it should not be different. People can at most assume what there thinking might be unless they make it public themselves. There is also a possibility that since they are weak themselves they might make an effort to make someone else stronger," said noted author and political observer Phanindra Kumar Dev Choudhury.

Like any other election, it is all about gamble and the move might end up benefitting BJP as well.

"In some seats that might be a possibility where both Raijor Dal and AJP have put up candidates. And in some cases, even if only either Raijor Dal or AJP has put up candidates, people might still go with the Congress," Choudhury said.

However, Raijor Dal has a different theory altogether. The party spokesperson denied any possibility of votes going either to Congress or BJP where AJP has also put up their own candidates.

"I don't think so. The Assamese community has a long history. Sometimes mistakes can be made but it's the Assamese people who always laugh at the last moment. In the interest of strengthening and safeguarding the nation by keeping the regional nationalists alive, this time the Assamese people will side with the regionalist progressive political party," Bora said.

She also denied that ties with AJP are at best brittle.

"We want to make it clear on behalf of Raijor Dol that our alliance is still intact. It is natural for a vicious cycle to create disrepute. We have given our highest priority to protect the interests of the people of the state and for that, we did extreme sacrifices. One of our working president Bhasko De Saikia is from Sarupathar, and also Raijar Dal and KMSS have a very firm grip on Golaghat and Sarupathar. Yet he decided not to contest. Very recently, on 17 March we even gave up on Barkhetri Legislative Assembly seat to AJP after having a strong candidate and strong organisational grassroots base. These are some examples only. Likewise, many of our candidates decided not to contest for the greater cause. It may be rare to find such instances of sacrifices in a newly formed regional party," Bora said.

Sceptics aren't convinced

"I personally feel there should one regional force and it should be a combination of all these scattered forces. The advantage that the AGP has is that they have people in all pockets being an old party but neither Raijor Dal nor the AJP has such organisational presence. Raijar Dal till now doesn't have a symbol either. AJP doesn't have good leadership. As a result, they are wrong and hasty moves," said political analyst Shyamkanu Mahanta.

There is no doubt that the symbol of a political party creates an image in the minds of the voters and conveys a powerful message just as we have seen in the hand symbol of the Congress or in the lotus of the BJP. Although AJP managed to get a symbol for themselves in the form of a ship, Raijor Dal failed to do so.

"Getting the symbol is a long process. Our party was formed in January and thereafter, we applied for it. But, there are different stages parallel to the application for the symbol. Moreover, our party president is in jail for almost 15 months. There are reports, police cases, and various other related internal issues. There are many criteria for taking a symbol. In that case, we cannot force our dominance or power to attain the symbol. So we are playing the election after a lot of complexity. So not having our symbol is not a big deal. Our identity is our main symbol. In the next few days, we think we will get positive results in this case. Already, a majority of our candidates have received a common symbol and we don't think this will cause complications. We believe people will vote for a better leader rather than the symbol," said Raijor Dal's Bora.

Raijor Dal spokesperson Gyanashree Bora campaigns for party president Akhil Gogoi at Sivasagar Assembly constituency in Assam. Image courtesy Gyanashree Bora

The biggest concern is that the two newly formed parties may be driven more by emotion than by politics.

"Both Raijor Dal and AJP have failed in taking political decisions. They are making decisions emotionally. Although these two parties attempted to join hands ultimately they could not. Instead, they have ended up giving candidates against each other. Now voters have started suspecting if Akhil Gogoi, who heads Raijor Dal, has compromised with the BJP. The situation is critical for the regional forces. The trust deficit is too evident between Raijor Dal and AJP. People have now started feeling that they have started working for the benefit of the BJP," said AGP (Progressive) general secretary Pranab Goswami whose party failed to form an alliance with the new parties and eventually decided against contesting the polls.

Rejecting the allegations, the Raijor Dal spokesperson said, "Everyone has emotion and that will be there. But that is not the case. We have a long-term political strategy."

Messy or methodical?

What political impact both Raijor Dal and AJP will create will be known in the coming days in their crusade to unseat national parties particularly the BJP from power. If they manage to shake the tree at least if not fell it, a new bunch of dexterous political strategists is definitely in our midst and the pundits will have to think twice before writing them off.



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