Cong hopes for a hat-trick in Assam

Gogoi, who will turn 75 on April 1 next, headed the Congress Government in Assam for two consecutive terms since 2001. He now hopes to do so for five more years. And he has reasons to be confident.

Ahead of April 4 and 11 polls for the state assembly in Assam, the Congress, indeed, appears to have an edge over its principal challengers, Asom Gana Parishad and BJP, which failed to strike a pre-election deal and, thus,  dashed hopes for a consolidation of the opposition votes and made it easier for the ruling party to blunt the anti-incumbency wave.

The Congress wrested power from the AGP in 2001, winning 71 of the 126 seats. The national party emerged as the single largest in the 2006 polls too, albeit with a lesser score of 53.

It, however, could retain power with the help of a post-poll deal with the Bodoland People’s Front, which is based in Bodo-dominated areas in western Assam and had won from 11 of 12 constituencies there.

But the Congress did not go for any pre-poll truck with the BPF this time and fielded its candidates in all the constituencies in the latter’s turf, ostensibly to regain some  support base among the Bodos, the single largest tribe of Brahmaputra Valley. The BPF is contesting all 12 seats.

Born out of the Assam Agitation of late 1970s and early 1980s, the AGP had rode a wave of emotion and swept the 1985 polls.

Charismatic Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, who led the agitation as the chief of the All Assam Students’ Union, drove straight from the hostel of the Gauhati University to the chief minister’s bungalow to head the State Government – first from 1985-89 and then again from 1996-2001.

Various charges against Mahanta, including  corruption, and internal bickering within the party ensured its drubbing in the 2001 poll. The AGP also suffered a split in 2005 with Mahanta floating Asom Gana Parishad (Progressive), leaving no scope for the regional party to pose a potent threat to the ruling Congress in the assembly polls of 2006.

The AGP has since gone through a process of reunification. Mahanta is now back in the party and is spearheading its  campaign. The regional party is likely to contest 104 seats. It explored possibilities of alliances with the BJP and All India United Democratic Front, but failed.

Banking on the issue of illegal migration from Bangladesh and consequent change in demographic profile of Assam, the BJP has been trying to have a foothold in the State. It contested the 2001 polls in alliance with the AGP and got eight seats. It went alone in 2006 and won 10 seats. It is now contesting 110 seats. The AIUDF, which emerged in 2006 and got 10 seats in the last assembly polls,  is now contesting 86 seats.

Mamata Banerjee’s All India Trinamool Congress announced 114 candidates. Its ambitious plans despite having little presence in the State is apparently intended to keep the Congress restrained in West Bengal and get some share of votes necessary to claim national party status.

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