Mahanta key to Assam regional unity(News Analysis)

May 6th, 2008 - 5:15 pm ICT by admin  

By Syed Zarir Hussain
Guwahati, May 6 (IANS) The process for unification of regional parties to take on the ruling Congress has begun in Assam with a regional satrap, two-time chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta emerging as the key factor that could make or mar the unity bid. An 11-member panel set up by the state’s main opposition party, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), to take the unity process to its logical end Tuesday began deliberations on the modalities for a possible unification after leaders of four regional groups came to the AGP head office for preliminary ‘ice-breaking efforts’.

The initiative for unification of the four regional parties with the AGP received a setback last week after the influential All Assam Students Union (AASU) declared that it favoured regional unity but minus Mahanta, one of the founder members of the AGP.

On Monday, however, Mahanta, accompanied by his colleagues in the breakaway party that he founded, the AGP (Progressive), drove in to the AGP headquarters, accepting an invitation from his former party leadership for a meeting to discuss the unification issue.

The process has started with Mahanta himself in the centre of things. But the ball now is in the AGP’s court on whether to ignore the AASU’s call or go with the views of the student group and try a unification of the regional parties sans Mahanta.

“I won’t like to comment on the views of the AASU over me, but I can tell you that political parties are capable of taking their own decisions on who to align with and so on,” Mahanta told IANS.

The AASU’s move in calling a formal news conference and making a statement, asking AGP to keep Mahanta out of the unity process, has surprised observers, particularly because the student group professes itself to be a non-political organisation.

“It is a fact that the AGP was formed in 1985 at the end of the mass anti-foreigner uprising in the state spearheaded by the AASU, but it remains to be seen whether the AGP after more than two decades would still like to be dictated by the student group,” said Wasbir Hussain, a political analyst.

Mahanta, a former AASU president himself and a protagonist of the anti-foreigner uprising of the 80s, has drawn the ire of the AASU for his alleged failure in implementing the 1985 Assam Accord and ridding the state of illegal Bangladeshi migrants during his two terms as chief minister.

Besides, Mahanta also got embroiled in the controversy surrounding the mysterious killings of relatives belonging to members of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) that came to be called ’secret killings’.

A commission of enquiry instituted by the Congress government indicted Mahanta, who was chief minister when most such killings took place. The commission’s report was placed in the state assembly in November last year.

On Tuesday, Mahanta said he felt happy setting foot at the office of his parent party, the AGP, but said he would be happier if the unification actually takes place.

“A unified regional force is the call of the hour. The people of Assam want a strong regional party to take on the Congress and expose its misdeeds,” Mahanta said.

The ball clearly is in AGP’s court. And it is no secret that sections within the AGP are still wary of Mahanta. A power struggle within the AGP cannot be ruled out once Mahanta is back.

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