AGP hopes to revive flagging prospects in Assam

AGP hopes to revive flagging prospects in Assam

In April 1979, revision of the electoral roll ahead of a by-poll in Mangaldoi Parliamentary constituency in Assam revealed a phenomenal rise in the number of voters, triggering suspicion that the list contained names of a large number of illegal migrants from Bangladesh.

Mangaldoi has witnessed many polls over the three decades since the ‘Assam Agitation’ ended in 1985. It will go to polls again this Thursday. And as Prafulla Kumar Mahanta — legendary leader of the fabled agitation — traverses the constituency to campaign for his party, Asom Gana Parishad, the central theme of his harangue remains Bangladesh.

“When the Congress-led government at the Centre conspired to give away Assam’s land to Bangladesh keeping people of the state in the dark, only the AGP MPs protested and tried to resist it in Parliament,” says Mahanta, as he seeks votes for his party’s candidate in Mangaldoi, Madhav Rajbongshi.

Rajbongshi won the 1998 and 1999 Lok Sabha polls from Mangaldoi on Congress tickets. He, however, lost to BJP’s Narayan Borkotoky and Ramen Deka in 2004 and 2009, respectively. He joined the AGP after the Congress denied him a ticket this time, and instead fielded former MP Kirip Chaliha from Mangaldoi.

“Vote for the AGP if you want your voice to be raised in Delhi,” says Mahanta, who made a record by becoming the country’s youngest chief minister in 1985, when the AGP was born out of the Assam Agitation and swept the Assembly polls.

He was obviously referring to the AGP’s resistance to the UPA government’s moves in Parliament, to ratify the 1974 Land Boundary Agreement between India and Bangladesh and its 2011 protocol, which sought to settle the decades-old dispute over enclaves and adversely possessed pieces of land.

The AGP is contesting for 12 of the state’s 14 Lok Sabha constituencies this time. And it is a struggle for survival for the regional party, which has already lost much of its caste Hindu Assamese support base to the BJP. The saffron party not only declined the AGP’s offer for an alliance ahead of the polls, but poached its senior leader C M Patowary, who is now trying his luck in neighbouring Barpeta.

Mahanta slams the Congress for “rampant corruption” and neglect of Assam by governments in the state and at the Centre. He, however, harps on the issue of illegal migration from Bangladesh.

“The AGP is committed to continue its fight against illegal migration and we will force the new government in New Delhi to strike a deal with Dhaka so that Bangladesh government takes back all the illegal migrants after they are detected,” he says, criticising successive Congress governments at the Centre for not implementing several clauses of the Assam Accord of 1985.

The AGP ruled Assam twice — from 1985 till 1999 and then again from 1996 till 2001. It lost to the Congress in 2001, when its vote share dropped to 32.35 per cent. The party suffered infighting and splits for years and its vote share came down to just 19.72 per cent in the Assembly polls in 2011.

The regional party has just one MP in the outgoing Lok Sabha. And, with just 10 seats in the 126-member Assembly, it has lost to the newborn All India United Democratic Front the stature of the principal opposition party too.

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