The two student outfits were instrumental in mobilising protests against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) last December, and since then the civil society had been urging them to float a regional alternative to the BJP and the Congress
The All Assam Students' Union (AASU) Chief Adviser Samujjal Bhattacharya, President Dipanka Kumar Nath and General Secretary Lurinjyoti Gogoi watch live analysis of final National Register of Citizens (NRC) list declared on August 31, in Guwahati. (Image: PTI)
The influential All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) is taking a second shot at politics, 35 years after it installed India’s first ever youth-led government breaking the Congress’ hegemony in the state. The student body was at the forefront of the six-year anti-foreigner agitation in the state, leading to the signing of the 1985 Assam Accord that set March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date to identify undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh.
The AASU and the slightly radical Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chatra Parishad (AJYCP), have jointly launched the Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) to take on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2021 assembly polls. The two student outfits were instrumental in mobilising protests against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) last December, and since then the civil society had been urging them to float a regional alternative to the BJP and the Congress.
The anti-CAA protests in Assam were triggered mainly by fears that the law granting Indian citizenship to ‘persecuted’ minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan would encourage more migration, thereby posing a threat to the state’s ethnic demography. The AASU, AJYCP and a host of ethnic organisations oppose CAA as it tends to violate the Assam Accord, seen as a safeguard for the identity and rights of the indigenous people.
This is the second chance for the AASU to prove its legitimacy after its offshoot, Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) was accused of betraying the people on the citizenship issue. AGP’s lone MP in Rajya Sabha, Biren Bashya, had voted in favour of the citizenship bill last year, drawing massive criticism not only from the Opposition but also from its own leaders.
The AGP is currently a junior partner in the BJP-led coalition government in the state. The party that was born out of the Assam Agitation of the 1980s ruled the state twice -- from 1985 to 1989 and from 1996 to 2001. With its dwindling support base and internal rift, the AGP is now staring at an uncertain future.
According to political observers, the AJP could be a potent regional force replacing AGP provided it joins hands with the different ethnic outfits and maintains safe distance from centrist and ‘communal’ forces.What’s in a name
Within hours of its launch on September 14, the AJP caused a flutter on social media with some Twitterati asking whether it was the second avatar of AGP. One user posted, “AJP=AGP 2.0? I hope not!”
Another post said, “Second child of #AASU is born today. Named like elder sibling, AGP, one would hope, against hope, that the new kid in town #AJP has a new offer.”
“They could have been more creative with the name,” wondered one netizen.
A minister of the BJP-led government also made a sarcastic comment, saying that AJP lacked ‘originality’ and that it was a ‘copy-paste’ party. “Assam Jatiya Parishad won’t be able to have an impact on Assam politics,” said junior health minster Pijush Hazarika.
Advisers of the party, however, maintained that the name was coined following detailed consultations with all stakeholders.Guided by experts
The new outfit is being guided by a panel led by noted educationists Basanta Deka and Krishna Gopal Bhattacharya. For their part, the AASU and the AJYCP claim they will retain their apolitical characters, allowing some of its senior leaders take the plunge into politics. In order to avoid past mistakes of the AGP, “provisions will be made in the constitution of AJP to prevent it from going adrift from the path of regionalism,” Deka told reporters
In addition, a permanent committee will be formed under its constitution to keep a strict vigil on AJP’s working and suggest remedies. The move is significant given that the AASU had no control over the AGP after the latter formed a government and could not fulfil key promises, including the implementation of the Assam Accord.
The AJP is expected to stress on the full implementation of the 1985 Accord, most importantly Clause 6 of the agreement. Last month, the AASU made public a confidential report by a home ministry-constituted committee on Clause 6. The AASU that was part of the panel had then accused the Sarbananda Sonowal government of sitting on it for the past five months. Union minister of state for home G Kishan Reddy also said in Parliament the Assam government is yet to forward the report to the Centre.
Clause 6 of the Assam Accord, which was signed by the Centre, the Assam government, the AASU and the now-defunct All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP) in 1985, states, “Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards…shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people”.The Akhil Gogoi factor
Meanwhile, a controversy has erupted over the non-inclusion of jailed activist Akhil Gogoi’s Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) in the new party. This, despite Gogoi’s repeated appeal to all indigenous outfits and anti-CAA forces to put up a united fight against the ruling BJP.
The peasant leader is currently facing charges under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act, 2019 for allegedly instigating violence during the anti-CAA protests in coordination with Maoists, last December.
For its part, the KMSS said it would go ahead with its plans of launching a political party if the newly-floated AJP does not respond to its appeal to form a united front by September 20.
Some analysts argue that keeping Gogoi away from the AASU-led party could end up helping BJP. “Populism certainly has a strong emotional appeal, but it may not be enough to confront the cadre-based well-oiled election machine of the BJP,” Udayon Misra, retired professor of Dibrugarh University and author of several books on Northeast, wrote in The Assam Tribune.
“If the exigencies of the electoral politics throw up an inclusive anti-BJP front of the regional groups plus the Congress-led combine of AIUDF and Left parties, the outcome of the coming polls could very well be different,” he added.(Jayanta Kalita is a senior journalist and author based in Delhi. He writes on issues related to India’s Northeast. The views are personal.)