In Bhagavata Purana, king of elephants Gajendra held the lotus in its trunk and prayed to Lord Vishnu to save him from the fatal clutches of makara or the crocodile. Lord Vishnu responded to the devotee’s prayer and killed the crocodile and rescued the trapped king. Now that is Hindu mythology and not elections.
When the elephant and the lotus came together again in 2001 Assam assembly polls, representing Asom Gana Parishad and Bharatiya Janata Party respectively, the alliance was mercilessly trounced by Congress. Congress is definitely not the makara but its ruthlessness was no less.
The regional party and the national one again went on to forge the alliance in 2004 Lok Sabha polls to erase the bad chapter of 2001. This time they won two seats each. Congress won nine out of the 14 Assam parliamentary seats. The high point for AGP in 2004 was the victory in Dibrugarh and Lakhimpur constituencies, both Congress strongholds.
Then sitting MP from Dibrugarh and Pradesh Congress Committee chief Paban Singh Ghatowar received 1,61,780 votes against AGP candidate Sarbananda Sonowal’s 2,08,571. AGP candidate Arun Sharma defeated then sitting Congress MP Ranee Narah in Lakhimpur. The BJP won the Mangaldoi and Nagaon seats.
However, AGP and BJP are not the best of pals. They have essentially one enemy in common — Congress.
For the 15th Lok Sabha polls, the parties have decided on a seat-sharing formula again. The BJP and AGP will contest from eight and six consistencies respectively.
Ironically in its manifesto highlights for the 2004 parliamentary polls, still available on its website, AGP views on BJP reads: “Like the Congress party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) too has come to be known as another self-styled ‘national’ party that is also bent upon causing further damage to Assam by way of carrying forward the policy of neglect, stepmotherly treatment and exploitation of Assam and its people. Like the Congress, the BJP too has been identified by the people as being driven by a policy of militant Indian nationalism that refuses to recognize the numerous sub-nationalities that constitute this great nation. BJP’s policy has been driven by a militant Hindu fanaticism that threatens the very existence of India as a secular nation that respects every religion and faith.”
The party has even harsher words for Congress.
AGP feels: “The people of Assam have identified the Congress party as the fountainhead of all evils that have crippled Assam. Congress has been identified with poor governance and misrule, endless corruption, patronizing the exploiters and division of the society on the lines of caste, creed, language, religion and ethnicity.”
The language would not change much for Congress this time as well, the primary bone of contention being the issue of illegal Bangladeshi migrants entering the state in massive numbers threatening the demographic composition of the state.
The 30 October 2008 serial blasts in Guwahati that killed nearly 100 people added the jihadi angle to infiltration. Bangladesh’s Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI) is now seen as a big threat that can elevate terrorism to extremely dangerous proportions. On the issue of illegal migrants, the AGP is likely to focus on the repeal of the controversial Illegal Migrants (Determination through Tribunal) Act on 12 July 2005. The Act was applicable only to Assam. The apex court verdict came on the basis of a petition filed by AGP leader Sarbananda Sonowal.
AGP president Chandra Mohan Patowary believes the alliance with BJP this time is at the “grass-root level” unlike the 2001 assembly elections and hopes the “people of Assam… will give a fitting reply to the Congress.”
Even as AGP is trying to hard to rebuild its house by re-inducting founder president and former Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, there are issues that continue to haunt the regional party.
The Justice K.N. Saikia Saikia Commission formed in August 2005, which submitted its final report in August 2007, held the former chief minister responsible for “secret killings” of family members of top bosses of Assam’s main militant group, ULFA. The extra-judicial killings are said to have occurred between 1998-01 when Mahanta was the state’s chief minister.
AGP won’t forget the financial mess it had created in the state when it last left power in 2001 through a series of poor decisions and rampant corruption. When Gogoi became chief minister in May 2001, he was attributed for various innovative schemes like Raijor Podulit Raijor Sarkar (People’s government at people’s doorsteps) and miraculously reviving the comatose Assam State Transport Corporation into a profit-making venture. The corporation was a platform of massive corruption during AGP’s regime under then transport minister Pradip Hazarika pushing employees to extreme poverty. The results of these Congress efforts were already reflected in the 2006 Assam assembly polls with Gogoi retaining power.
The Gogoi government formed the Sixth Pay Commission in mid-2008 to recommend pay hikes for its employees in the line of the Union Sixth Pay Commission. The commission was also formed keeping in mind the Lok Sabha polls this year. Last year, Assam had announced its decision to release 10% interim relief with retrospective effect from April 2008 for its employees.
AGP would definitely keep these facts in mind and time would decide if the lotus-elephant combination can give thumbs down to the raised hand.