Debating India

ASSAM

From agitation to governance

M.S. PRABHAKARA

Friday 23 April 2004, by PRABHAKARA*M.S.

THE Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) was born in October 1985, two months after the signing of the Assam Accord (August 15, 1985), which brought to an end the six-year-long Assam agitation led by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and an alliance of small regional political parties and other `non-political’ structures under the name of All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP). The central demand of the agitation was the expulsion of foreign nationals illegally staying in Assam.

Two months after signing the accord, the agitation leaders transformed themselves into a political party - the AGP. Another two months later, the AGP won a decisive victory in the elections to the State Assembly and formed the first government by a regional party in Assam.

As has been demonstrated repeatedly in history, the success of any movement has in it the seeds of dissent. Leaders of an agitation transformed in the moment of success to leaders of a government invested with authority and power always have to contend with malcontents from within their own ranks, especially the auxiliaries who enabled the agitation to succeed but who, out of necessity, are not among those reaping the benefits of success. The dilemma is seen most strikingly in armed struggles, but is dire even in cases where the agitation has not had an armed struggle component.

Thus, the AGP government began to face trouble from within its own ranks almost from the moment the leaders assumed political office. Conventional dissent could be managed by suitable re-apportionment of political office, though there is necessarily a limit to such internal compromises. However, since the Assam agitation also had from its very origins a militant component with confused ideas about synthesising the `national’ struggle of the Assamese people for an independent Assam (Swadhin Asom) with `class struggle’, ready to make common cause to achieve this synthesis with the very social forces that were the principal `object’ of the Assam agitation, these contradictions could never be resolved.

The dilemma of the AGP, in and out of office twice over the last two decades, highlights strikingly both these contradictions. Regionalism, as an ideology is no more its exclusive domain, with the Congress(I) and more recently the Bharatiya Janata Party making heavy inroads into its support base, appropriating the very slogans and, to some extent, even the symbols and methods employed by the AGP.

Not surprisingly, the AGP drew a blank in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections and also duly lost political office in the State in the Assembly elections of May 2001, winning just 20 seats in the 126-member Assembly. More haemorrhaging than these losses has been the problems the party has been facing internally, with clearly defined factions set on a battle to finish. The sidelining of former Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta by the current leadership, the manoeuvres within the party that ensured the defeat of the party’s candidate in the recent elections to the Rajya Sabha, and the amazing goings-on in respect of the nominations to the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections are only the more obvious signs of the deep crisis that is facing the party.

See online : Frontline

P.S.

in Frontline, volume 21 - Issue 08, April 10 - 23, 2004.

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