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Strange Bedfellows

Strange Bedfellows

Author: Editorial
Publication: Sentinel Assam
Date: December 8, 2004
URL: http://www.sentinelassam.com/sentinel_en/archives/dec0804/editorial.htm

The news that the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) has begun talks with the United Minority Front (UMF) for an electoral tie-up during the State Assembly polls due in 2006 would rate as the most bizarre pre-election alliance imaginable. At the same time it also serves to underscore the fact that anything is possible in politics - especially in Indian politics. Having said this, it is important to take a look at how much of a bizarre alliance this tie-up would constitute if it comes through. In fact the proposal itself hinges on the proverbial shortness of public memory and the even greater shortness of the politician's memory in India that leads to totally divergent political parties becoming willing bedfellows.

It will be recalled that many of the leaders of the present UMF were Congressmen to start with. Perhaps the most important reason for their breaking away from the Congress to set up the UMF was the Assam Accord and the additional grievance that it should have been signed between a Congress government at the Centre one the one hand and the AASU and the Gana Sangram Parishad on the other. What did not help matters at all was that even the government in Assam at that time was a Congress government. There was such a strong sense of betrayal among the minority Congress leaders in Assam that many of them left the Congress to set up the UMF. And let us not forget that the very signatories of the Assam Accord became the leaders of the AGP that stormed its way to power soon after. Naturally, there could have been no love lost between the AGP and the UMF at that point of time. It is another matter that Mr Prafulla Mahanta and his AGP Government soon reneged on his promises to the people of Assam on the handling of the foreigners issue, and in subsequent elections even went the way of the Congress in wooing the illegal Bangladeshi voters. In fact, the AGP wiped out every trace of the fact that it was a party born out of the Assam Movement or that its main plank had been the detection, disfranchisement and the deportation of all foreign nationals living illegally in Assam, by carefully avoiding all mention of 'foreigners' and the issues relating to such foreigners from the party's subsequent election manifestos. In fact, Mr Mahanta went a step farther in placating illegal migrants by getting a deputy commissioner of Nagaon district to issue more than 4,000 arms licences to 'the minorities'.

The UMF has now come full circle. It is now a staunch supporter of the Assam Accord and swears by it. Senior UMF leaders have declared that the very salvation and survival of the minorities in the State is safeguarded by the same Assam Accord that they had so staunchly opposed at one time. In fact, the UMF places the Assam Accord even above the Constitution of India as a touchstone to the laws of the land, especially the laws concerning immigration, citizenship, voting rights and so on.

There are a few facts of life that the AGP must take note of very carefully before it pushes through a tie-up with the UMF merely for electoral advantages. After all, there has to be a difference between a national political party like the Congress and a regional one. The first of these is that unlike the Congress it cannot afford to put the party above the State and yet hope to survive in Assam. It has to think of the State first of all, and worry about how to stop the State and the region from being annexed by Bangladesh. Next, it has to bear in mind that the word "minority" has acquired a different meaning than what it has in the rest of the world or even in other parts of the country. In Assam, the word "minority" does not mean just minority citizens of India, but also illegal migrants from Bangladesh. Citizenship has ceased to count. Religion alone matters. Anywhere else in the world one cannot be a 'minority' without being a citizen first. The UMF has made the most of this ambiguity, and will continue to do so. Otherwise, why should the minorities of one district alone have felt such a pressing need for firearms in a matter of months. And why should the UMF suddenly have the urge to settle the rift on the IM(DT) Act issue now, when a possible tie-up with the AGP is one the cards? The answer to this may lie in the number of political parties that have broken away from the Congress at one time or the other only to go back to the parent party later on. Unless the AGP treads very warily at this juncture it may well end up picking a strange bedfellow only to be wiped out as a regional political party.

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