Thirty-five years after the formation of Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), All Assam Students Union (AASU) and Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chatra Parishad (AJYCP) took the first step at forming a new political party on Wednesday.
Both organisations, which played a crucial role in the six-year anti-foreigner agitation that culminated with the signing of Assam Accord in 1985 and had spearheaded the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) stir in the state, have formed an advisory committee to suggest a way forward.
“In view of the continuous betrayals from various ruling parties, the committee has been formed with the aim of securing the future of Assam and Assamese people. The committee will give AASU and AJYCP a roadmap for the future,” said AASU president Dipanka Kumar Nath while addressing a press conference.
The 16-member committee comprises former Asom Sahitya Sabha president Nagen Saikia, eminent author Arup Kumar Dutta—both as advisors, and several other renowned personalities like the national award-winning filmmaker Jahnu Barua and former Meghalaya Governor Ranjit Shekhar Mooshahay.
Assembly elections are due in Assam in April next year and the new political outfit, once it is formed, would attempt to dislodge the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Asom Gana Parishad (AGP)-Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) combine.
“When we were involved in the anti-CAA stir and visited all corners of Assam, people from all walks had urged us to take steps to ensure a bright future for Assam. Formation of the committee is a step in that regard,” said AJYCP president Rana Pratap Baruah.
The signing of the Assam Accord in 1985 was expected to detect and deport illegal migrants of Bangladeshi origin staying in Assam as well as seal borders with the neighbouring nation. But 35 years down the line, that hasn’t materialized yet.
The Centre’s move to grant citizenship to religious minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan through the enactment of CAA was seen as a move that would lead to large scale influx of Bangladeshis to Assam—something which AASU, AJYCP and various other organizations opposed and protested against.
“Taking suggestions from the public on how to take the anti-CAA stir forward and securing a bright future for Assam’s indigenous people were reasons for forming the committee. Based on their suggestions, timely and required steps would be taken. We would like to stress that both AASU and AJYCP would remain apolitical,” said AASU’s chief adviser Samujjal Kumar Bhattacharya.
The decision by AASU and AJYCP, two of the biggest organizations in the state, to test political waters ahead of the assembly elections is seen as significant for the outcome of the polls.
“We are forming an anti-BJP alliance and don’t want the division of votes, which could benefit the ruling dispensation. We will ask AASU’s outfit as well to join our camp. It is for them to decide what they want to do,” Congress MLA and leader of opposition in Assam assembly Debabrata Saikia said on Tuesday.
Opposition Congress and All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), who are planning to join hands against the BJP-AGP-BPF combine, is expecting the new outfit to join their camp.
“We welcome the creation of a new political party, but AASU must make it clear how it will remain apolitical after forming a party. We hope they don’t join hands with Congress and AIUDF for sake of power. Our government is focused on implementing the Assam Accord and are confident of winning,” said BJP spokesperson Rupam Goswami.
After signing of the Assam Accord, several AASU leaders like Prafulla Kumar Mahanta and Bhrigu Kumar Phukan who were at the forefront of the agitation against foreigners formed AGP and came to power in 1985 with Mahanta becoming the state’s as well as India’s youngest chief minister.
The party came to power again in 1996 with Mahanta at the helm. In the next few years, it lost a sizeable chunk of its vote bank to BJP, the biggest party in the state at present. Incidentally, the incumbent Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal was also a former president of AASU before he moved to AGP and later to BJP.
“AASU, as well as AJYCP, need to clearly spell out the reasons for planning to start a political party. Is it to defeat the ruling BJP-led coalition or to uphold regional aspirations?” questioned Akhil Ranjan Dutta, professor of political science at Gauhati University.
“It seems they are not aware of the strengths of the party in power or have overlooked it. Formation of a political party seems like a face-saving gesture after the anti-CAA stir. When AGP was formed, AASU had completely dissociated itself from the process. But by not doing so this time, the organization may be putting its image at stake,” he added.