Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday launched Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s Assam campaign in his usual way. Taking aim at the Congress, blaming it for years of misrule. But what is interesting is, he chose the Bodo heartland of Kokrajhar as the stage for his first rally.
Not just that. The public rally was organised by the BJP’s newest ally, the Bodo People’s Front (BPF).
Speaking to The Wire from Guwahati, Congress MP Gaurav Gogoi reacted with a jibe. “That the Prime Minister has come all the way from Delhi to address a meeting of a regional party shows how worried the BJP already is about losing the Assam elections.” His father, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, spoke in similar terms to the media yesterday, “Why is BJP not talking about its ‘Mission 84’ now? It knows it can’t win Assam.”
Just after winning seven of the 14 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP talked of “Mission 84” in the State, declaring its target for a hefty majority in the 126-seat assembly.
Aminul Islam, General Secretary (Organisation) of All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), chose to read the BJP-BPF pre-poll alliance “only (as) a monetary understanding.”
“The BPF is going with the BJP for the same reason it went with the Congress in the last eight years. It wants to be with a party that is in power at the Centre. BPF is only interested in money. Hagrama Mohiliary has already admitted it publicly,” he told The Wire.
BPF supremo Mohiliary, a former leader of the armed group Bodo Liberation Tigers, did say to local media on January 4, “If the NDA Government releases funds, we can think of supporting BJP in the assembly polls.” Though routed through the State Government, the funds for the Bodo Territorial Area Ditrict (BTAD), which administers four districts, come separately from the Centre.
To enter into a pre-poll alliance with BJP, Mohiliary, among other conditions, demanded a Rs. 5000 crore financial package from the Modi Government for BTAD, of which he is the chairman. Though he spoke to the media about the Centre agreeing to “a Rs.1000 crore package for BTAD” just after formalising his party’s alliance with BJP in New Delhi on January 17, Modi avoided referring to it in his speech today.
Sensitive issue of statehood
Yet another sensitive issue that the Prime Minister avoided was statehood to the Bodos, a demand of the powerful Assam Bodo Students Union (ABSU). ABSU and Mohiliary are certainly not on the same page on the issue. This past December 11, ABSU cadres burnt Mohiliary in effigy in Kaliagaon for his comment against the organisation chief Pramod Boro that he had been “trying to create instability among people in the BTC areas.”
Considering Mohiliary’s sour relations with ABSU, the local BJP cadre was not for an alliance with BPF. They wanted it with Bodoland People’s Progressive Front (BPPF) instead. The astute politician that Mohiliary is, he successfully wooed back BPPF chief Rabiram Narzary to the fold. On January 17, Narzary, a former colleague of Mohiliary before he formed BPPF in 2005, announced his party’s merger with BPF, which silenced the local BJP members. To reach out to tribal groups outside the BTC areas, BPF also recently floated a platform – United People’s Front, which the BJP leadership feels will help it win the tribal votes outside of the BTC areas.
After an eight year alliance with the Congress, BPF went out of it in June, 2014. In the last two elections, it fought all the 16 assembly seats in the BTC areas. A Kokrajhar-based BJP leader, who doesn’t want to be named told The Wire, “We were against the alliance with BPF because it finished the Congress’s presence in the BTC areas and it will do the same to BJP.” Mohiliary has reportedly said that seat sharing with the BJP would only be in the areas outside the BTC.
However, Modi, by not announcing today the financial package as per Mohiliary’s demand, certainly hinted to the BPF that BJP would not accept all his terms. The PM, however, did stress on development of the BTAD areas like any other part of the country. “I have a three-point programme for the development of the backward BTAD region – development, development and development,” added Modi.
He also announced the pre-poll sop of Scheduled Tribes status to the Karbi tribes living in the plains and the Bodo Kacharis of the hill areas of Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao districts. That has, however, not gone down well with the Koch Rajbonshis and the non-Bodos of the BTC areas who declared an Assam bandh today to protest Modi’s “disregard” of their interests.
Congress not yet ready for Grand Alliance
Like the BPF, AIUDF was also with the Congress in the earlier Assembly polls. This time too, it was keen to enter into an alliance. The Congress has not given a green signal to it yet.
“Just after the Bihar elections, Tarun Gogoi talked of a similar Mahagatbandhan for Assam. We supported it and expressed our willingness to join it,” said Islam.
The Congress wants the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), which opposed the Modi Government’s recent decision to give citizenship to Hindus of Bangladesh origin living in the State, not only to join the proposed Mahagatbandhan but also wants AIUDF to spare seats for it, an issue not agreeable to the party. Says Islam, “The Congress wants only us to give up seats. If more like-minded forces come together and do seat sharing, we are in it. Otherwise, we are back to our anti-Congress and anti-BJP stance.”
p class=”p1″>Gaurav Gogoi said the decision so far has been to go it alone but doors are not closed to potential allies. “Our senior leaders have already said it. Congress is the only force fighting the BJP across the country, so like-minded parties should join us. Talks with AGP are on.”
Aiming at a watertight strategy for Assam, the BJP has not only wooed BPF but is also “in talks” with AGP. While the BPF has 12 MLAs in the current Assembly, AGP has nine. BJP is keen on bringing AGP to its side certainly to add that “regional” factor and also to dilute the anger of Assamese voters against the Bangladeshi Hindu citizenship issue.
That the BJP has its government at the Centre may help it tilt the scales finally. The AGP — low on poll funds and away from power for a long time — might swallow the bait. But what will make the decision difficult for the party certainly is the rare opportunity the BJP itself has thrown at it – its hope of a possible revival by going to the voters with “the illegal immigrant issue” once again.