Congress-AIUDF alliance in Assam had potential to shift political ground, but neither party had stamina or conviction

The Congress formally ended ties with the AIUDF on Monday, marking the unravelling of the Mahajot, a multi-party alliance formed in January with an eye on the Assam assembly elections. Arithmetic had suggested that a Congress-AIUDF alliance could lead to a consolidation of the 34 per cent Muslim vote in the state and help it take on the BJP, which was seeking reelection to office. The Mahajot gave a close fight to the NDA in terms of vote-share — 43.68 to 44.51 per cent — but it could not translate this into seats. The Congress seems to have concluded that the alliance cost the party Hindu votes, especially in the Upper Assam constituencies where it lost heavily to the BJP.

The Congress-AIUDF alliance was a turning point not merely because of its electoral implications but also because it ended the relegation of the latter, seen to be the voice of Bengali-speaking Muslims, in mainstream politics in the state. But if arithmetic was a factor that led to the formation of the alliance, very little chemistry was visible on the ground during the election. The Congress, wary of the BJP campaign that painted the AIUDF as a party of “outsiders” and hence inimical to Assamese interests, underplayed the alliance and the two parties even fought each other in a few seats. The antipathy of parties that grew out of the anti CAA-NRC agitation, like Akhil Gogoi’s Raijor Dal, also influenced the Congress against a fuller embrace of the AIUDF. In the Barak Valley, the alliance became a major source of discomfort for the Congress, which leaders like Sushmita Dev expressed during seat-sharing talks in March — Dev, who was president of the All India Mahila Congress, has since joined the TMC. Clearly, the voices within the Congress that had held the alliance would cost the party support among non-Muslim Assamese voters, have prevailed over the backers of the Mahajot, though the official reason for the break-up is that an AIUDF MLA praised the BJP.

The Mahajot could not sidestep the linguistic, religious and ethnic fault lines that the BJP skilfully exploited to mobilise voters. The Congress and AIUDF lacked the conviction and political nous to present their alliance as a break from the politics of polarisation towards an inclusive governance framework that respected Assam’s demographic diversity. The BJP had laid out a communal argument against the Congress-AIUDF alliance during the election. The Congress failed to counter it then. And now, even though indirectly, it may be laying the ground for its revival.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on September 2, 2021 under the title ‘Maha split’.

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