Guwahati: First, it was the 2021 debacle in the Assam Assembly elections. Then, it was the never-ending internal squabbling in the recently-concluded Rajya Sabha polls, which led to the end of the Ripun Bora’s 46-year tenure as a Congress leader. And yesterday, the Grand Old Party suffered a humiliating loss in the Guwahati Municipal Elections when it failed to get even a single seat in the 60 wards.
In short, the so-called ‘principal’ Opposition party could make a comeback, sure, but not anytime soon.
Of the 60 wards, the ruling BJP-led alliance in Assam registered a near clean sweep in the GMC elections, winning 58 wards in the civic polls.
Triumphs in a ward each by new entrants: the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which has no base in Assam or the Northeast, and Assam Jatiya Parishad, a registered, unrecognised political party, act as salt in Congress’ wounds.
Even as the Congress debacle has endured too long for its comfort, political analysts opine that the internal squabbling in the Congress camp was a ‘recipe for disaster’ when it came to gaining, or regaining, the electorates’ confidence.
Speaking to EastMojo, city-based political analyst Sushanta Talukdar said, “The prime reason for Congress’ downfall is the apparent internal squabbling in its camp. Besides, unlike BJP, which launched an aggressive campaign led by chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, the Congress failed to put up a united show.”
Talukdar said that low turnout and high NOTA (none of the above) figures in the polls reflected voters’ disgruntlement with the ruling BJP-led coalition. “But the Congress and other Opposition parties failed to convert it into electoral anger of these voters,” he said.
“Residents have complained about the lack of civic amenities, but Congress failed to reach out to the people in different wards to mobilise them. The party’s actions were limited optics of a press conference, press statements and occasional protests like calendar events,” the analyst said.
Moreover, he said that the decimation of Congress in Punjab and the rise of AAP have been influencing factors.
“BJP used this to target AAP to shape the narrative that it is AAP, not the Congress, which can provide an alternative to the saffron party with an eye on the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. The BJP wants a narrative that there will be no national challenger and smaller parties may be having influence in some states but are not going to be national players,” Talukdar opined.
Dr Pranjit Hazarika, a former head of political science in Tezpur College, said: “The people/voters have been fed up with the Congress and its internal strife. So much so, that they have lost faith and belief in the T party. They have almost started to believe that there is no Opposition in the state.”
“In contrast, the ruling party has only made its case stronger in the form of doing development work such as building flyovers in the city. The chief minister’s announcement that the city residents would get ample drinking water in the next couple of months (with the commencement of the much-awaited JICA water supply project) has also convinced the electorate that if at all promises can be a reality, only the ruling party can deliver. Basically, the BJP has shown that there is no alternative to the party in power,” Hazarika said.
Moreover, he says, another ‘perennial’ problem – artificial floods and waterlogging during the rainy season – has been addressed. Several BJP leaders have said that while the problem will remain, the severity has been tackled. The waterlogging time has reduced to a matter of a couple of hours as opposed to a couple of days in the past, they added.
Dr Hazarika further said that the signs appear ominous for Congress, which drew a blank in the civic polls.
“More so when parties such as AAP, which has secured second place in 25 wards and won one ward, have announced its arrival in a way in Assam politics. There is a chance that parties such as AAP, despite not having a base, might be vying for the ‘principal’ Opposition’s slot given Congress’ consistent poor show in the state, starting from the Assembly elections last year,” he said.
He further said that the trend of Congress leaders jumping ship, most recently veteran Congressman and former Rajya Sabha MP Ripun Bora’s resignation and joining Bengal’s ruling party, All India Trinamool Congress, has also left the party in utter disarray.
In such a state of affairs, the foray of parties such as AAP is significant.
AAP, for its part, is looking to expand its base in the Northeast, buoyed by its Punjab triumph and having already triumphed in two wards in the municipality polls in Lakhimpur and Tinsukia districts held last month.
AAP leader and Delhi MLA Atishi Marlena recently paid a day-long visit to the city, when she took digs at the ruling BJP and opposition Congress for “not providing basic amenities to the residents of Assam’s capital city over the decades”.
“The common man has been deprived of drinking water, proper roads, upgraded government schools and hospitals in the city over the past six years. Over the past seven decades, the past governments, including the Congress, have done precious little for the state. All they have done so far is to serve their interests,” Marlena, the national political affairs committee member and national executive of AAP alleged while addressing a media conference here on the last day of the civic poll campaign.
Marlena had also claimed that AAP has lived up to its pre-poll commitments of providing free piped water connections to every household in Delhi, which she pointed out is “a bigger city and earlier had a far greater water problem than Guwahati.
So, while parties like AAP and even All India Trinamool Congress, are making the most of the apparent erosion of the Grand Old Party, the beleaguered Congress president has run out of words to make its presence felt.
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