AGP unites but Mahanta re-entry signals rough road ahead (News Analysis)

October 15th, 2008 - 2:02 pm ICT by IANS  

Guwahati, Oct 15 (IANS) Assam’s main opposition party Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) has united with its breakaway factions generating some euphoria among supporters of regionalism in the state. But the road ahead is expected to be rough with street protests already visible against the re-entry of former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta into his parent party.Aside from the stiff opposition and intensifying protests by the influential All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) against Mahanta’s return to the AGP Tuesday, it is clear that a strong lobby led by ousted president Brindabon Goswami, who kept away from the unification ceremony, would not take things lying down.

“I have kept away from the ceremony because I was ousted unconstitutionally. The party has simply used me like a crane in times of distress,” Goswami told IANS.

Right now, however, the focus is on the AASU which is fuming over the AGP’s decision to ignore its warning and accepting Mahanta and his breakaway AGP (Progressive) back into the party fold.

The AASU, of which Mahanta was a former president, has launched a tirade against the former chief minister for his alleged role in the ’secret killings’ that rocked Assam during his tenure.

Said AASU adviser Samujjal Bhattacharya: “We have already declared Mahanta a betrayer for various things including his role in the ’secret killings’ as well as for his inability to rid Assam of illegal Bangladeshi migrants. Now, I would like to call the AGP a party that resorts to lies because it has gone back on its assurance that it would not take Mahanta back.”

On Tuesday, as the AGP leaders and supporters clapped and danced to the accompaniment of the party’s theme song during the unification ceremony, AASU volunteers went about painting Mahanta’s effigies in black besides burning them in various parts of the state. This is the first time that AASU activists had taken to the streets in such angry protests against the AGP and Mahanta.

The AASU stand is significant because there was a time, between 1985 (when the AGP was formed) and 1995, when the student group and the AGP were regarded as two sides of the same coin. Though the AASU has always professed its non-political character, in the absence of a student wing in the AGP, its supporters were seen to be fulfilling a dual role - as student volunteers as well as youth workers of the regional party.

Things changed after Mahanta became embroiled in the controversy over the mystery killings of scores of members belonging to families of cadres of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). An enquiry commission has already indicted Mahanta, who also held the home portfolio, during the time when these killings took place.

The ’secret killings’ aside, the track record of the AGP government under Mahanta, that had come to power for the first time in 1985 with the sole promise of ousting the illegal Bangladeshi migrants and usher in a ‘golden millennium’ in Assam, went against public aspirations.

Not more than 1,500 illegal migrants were ousted during Mahanta’s tenure.

Apart from the AASU factor, the new AGP leadership headed by party president Chandra Mohan Patowary will have a testing time keeping the flock together, particularly because heavyweights like Mahanta are back.

Moreover, the other parties that have come back to the AGP fold, like the Trinamool Gana Parishad (TGP) and others were headed by influential leaders like Atul Bora (senior).

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