Two days after the Rajya Sabha polls in Assam in which the BJP-led NDA coalition won both the seats, amidst allegations of Opposition cross-voting, a war of words erupted between the Congress and All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF).
The NDA had the numbers for winning only one seat. The fact that it won a second one Thursday was an indication that at least seven Opposition MLAs broke ranks to vote for the BJP and its alliance partner, United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL).
While one MLA (South Karimganj legislator Siddique Ahmed) wrote “one” instead of the prescribed “1”, leading to the cancellation of his vote, the identity of the other six turncoats is still not clear, leading to mudslinging between the Congress and AIUDF.
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The latest dust-up is a continuation of the on-again, off-again relationship between the Congress and Badruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF. Since 2020, they have been trying to patch up an alliance to oust the all-powerful BJP from Assam. However, the relationship has been rocky. They tied up for the 2021 Assembly elections; but split two months after the results returning the BJP to power. Now, they announced a joint candidate for the Rajya Sabha polls, but are bickering again having tasted defeat.
Friday morning began with Congress spokesperson Manjit Mahanta alleging that five legislators of the AIUDF had “entered” Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s residence at 6 am, insinuating that they had voted for the NDA.
In response, the AIUDF moved a breach of privilege motion against the Congress in the Assembly, saying they were “insulted” by the allegation. “All our 15 legislators voted for the united Opposition candidate, Ripun Bora. There are internal differences within the Assam Congress, and it is a section of them who voted for the BJP,” alleged AIUDF MLA Aminul Islam.
Congress MLA and Leader of Opposition Debabrata Saikia countered that Congress legislators “believed in in our own party”. “Apart from the one whose vote was rejected, rest were loyal,” said Saikia, insisting that it was the AIUDF which had betrayed them.
Flailing to stay relevant in the face of the BJP’s might, the Congress may see an option in the AIUDF, but the two are hardly natural allies. The AIUDF has a large support base among Bengali-origin Muslims of Assam, and is popular in lower Assam and Barak Valley, rising at the expense of the Congress. However, as Akhil Ranjan Dutta, who heads the Political Science Department at Gauhati University, points out, tying up with the AIUDF comes at the cost of alienating the voters of Upper Assam. Upper Assam, which lies at heart of state’s ethnic sub-nationalism, is represented by the “indigenous” Assamese and caste-Hindu vote
“Smaller regional parties like the Asom Jatiya Parishad and Akhil Gogoi’s Raijor Dal, which the Congress has been trying to ally with, are also anti-AIUDF,” adds Dutta.
Many in the Congress too have been opposed to an alliance with the AIUDF on the same grounds. Says a senior Congress leader: “Some believe that if we align with the AIUDF, we will get the numbers, especially in the Lok Sabha elections… Time and again, we make the mistake of allying with them. But in reality, many of us never wanted this alliance, but we are a minority within the party.”
Following the Rajya Sabha poll embarrassment, many in the Congress have accused the AIUDF of lack of ideological conviction. “They are a party of businessmen and guided by business interests,” a senior Congress leader says.
The cracks between the Congress and AIUDF at the grassroots had been evident even during the Assembly elections. “When I went to campaign in the Hindu-dominated areas, I felt resentment,” says a Congress leader from Upper Assam, also requesting anonymity. “Many said voting for me was as good as voting for Ajmal.”
The AIUDF’s Islam calls the Congress’s behaviour ahead of the Rajya Sabha elections (it had publicly accused the AIUDF of “selling” its MLAs to the BJP) as inexplicable. He attributes it to internal differences within the party over the candidature of Ripun Bora, the former Assam Congress chief who was their joint candidate for the Rajya Sabha seat.
“They tried to kill two birds with one stone,” says Islam. “One, defeat Ripun Bora, and two, malign the image of the AIUDF by portraying it as a communal party hands in glove with the BJP.”
Regardless of what really transpired, some believe the AIUDF’s image has indeed taken a beating in the wake of the polls, with the perception gaining ground that the BJP won with the help of the AIUDF.
But others say the episode only reflects the hegemony of the BJP in the state. “The CM has made it amply clear that MLAs can only get work done in their constituencies if they have links with the ruling party,” says Dutta, adding it was hardly surprising then that some were “ready to compromise”.
Source: india Express