Guwahati: The decision of the regional Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) to split from the BJP and return to former ally Congress is being seen by political analysts as a big positive for the latter ahead of the Assam assembly election.
However, analysts don’t think the exit — announced Saturday by BPF chief Hagrama Mohilary — will hurt the BJP, which won its maiden stint in power in the state in 2016.
Assam is scheduled to hold assembly elections from 27 March, with results due 2 May.
The parting of ways between the BJP and the BPF follows months of tensions that first caught public attention in January 2020 when the BPF rejected the third Bodo Accord, signed by the central and the Assam governments with the four factions of insurgent group National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) and the All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) to end the Bodo insurgency and bring peace and development to the region.
The differences intensified in April 2020, when the term of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) ended but elections couldn’t be held on schedule because of the Covid-19 pandemic. While the BPF sought a six-month extension, the BJP imposed governor’s rule in the areas overseen by the tribal council.
When the election to the 40-member tribal council was finally held in December, the BJP tied up with another regional party, the United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL), after dumping the BPF. The Bodoland People’s Front had held the council since it was set up in 2003 (after an earlier Bodo Accord) but saw its seat share shrink over the years. In December 2020, it fell four seats short of the majority mark. The outcome led former BTC chief Mohilary to concede defeat after being in power for 17 years.
In 2005, when the first BTC election was held, the BPF had won 35 seats, which successively came down — to 26 in 2010, 20 in 2015, and 17 seats in 2020.
The BJP, meanwhile, saw a big leap in the region with the BTC poll results. It bagged nine seats, with ally UPPL raising its tally to 12 from 7 in 2015.
“In the BTC polls, when the BJP supported the UPPL, naturally, the BPF approached the Congress and the AIUDF (All India United Democratic Front, a regional party),” said Bhaskar Narzary, professor at the Kokrajhar Government College.
Speaking to ThePrint, BPF members alleged mistreatment by the BJP, accusing the party of repeatedly “humiliating” them.
The BJP, however, has made light of the BPF’s exit, even as the Congress has expressed confidence that the BPF’s return is a sign that the party’s on the path to resurgence in Assam.
BPF chief Hagrama Mohilary tweeted Saturday that the party is joining the ‘Mahajath’, or the Congress-led grand alliance.
To work for Peace, Unity and Development the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) has decided to join hands with MAHAJATH in the forthcoming Assam Assembly Election. We shall no longer maintain friendship or alliance with BJP.
— Hagrama Mohilary (@HagramaOnline) February 27, 2021
Experts see the decision as an advantage for the Mahajath, but say there is “little chance” that Mohilary can set things right for the Congress in Assam.
“Hagrama on board the Mahajath is a big plus for them because Hagrama has a big influence on Bodo voters across the state. It is a positive enforcement to this grand alliance,” said political analyst Shyamkanu Mahanta.
“But ground feedback tells me that BJP-AGP (Asom Gana Parishad) will form the government. The Bodo people, too, might love to stay with the ruling establishment,” he added.
The BJP, Mahanta said, “must have felt that Hagrama is completely used up — having reached the peak of his political career, which they thought is declining.
“So, they wanted to invest in an emerging regional force,” he added.
“The Congress will gain in some constituencies where the BPF has its vote bank. It will perform only 20 per cent better with BPF support, but the BJP will independently gain enough with additions from other parties,” added Bhaskar Narzary.
The BPF’s political rivals have offered similar assessments.
Urkhao Gwra Brahma, a senior member of the UPPL and former MP, said the “BPF joining the Congress-led alliance will not have any impact on the upcoming state elections”.
“The BPF strategies had no impact on the BTC elections too,” he added.
The BJP noted that Mohilary has allied with the Congress twice before.
“He has only rejoined now. Mohilary possibly forgot that he was a member of the Congress alliance before,” said Assam BJP vice-president Swapnaneel Baruah. “In the BTC, he won 17 seats with the support of the minorities. His reach will not extend beyond Kokrajhar, provided the minorities vote for him.”
The Congress, meanwhile, described its alliance with the BPF as “a winning combination”.
“Hagrama’s rejoining the Congress alliance and joining the grand alliance has nailed the coffin of BJP rule,” said Congress MP Pradyut Bordoloi.
The BPF is looking to contest from 12 assembly seats within the four districts of BTR, but Bodo voters are spread across at least 28 other seats, including in Gauripur, East Bilasipara, Sorbhog, Bhawanipur, Gohpur, Rangapara, Dhekiajuli, Bihali, Dhemaji, Lakhimpur, Golaghat, Dudhnoi, Boko among others.
Bodos constitute an estimated 5-6 per cent of Assam’s population.
In December, state Finance Minister and senior BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma said the alliance would remain intact “until the elections”.
The three BPF members who serve as cabinet ministers in the Sarbananda Sonowal government — Pramila Rani Brahma, Chandan Brahma and Rihon Daimary — have refused to step down before the government completes its term.
“Why should we resign? It’s natural that the alliance will stay for five years till the government completes its term,” said Brahma.
“The BJP insulted us and repeatedly humiliated us — why should we think of them? Like a dog, they would feed us, keep us for their gains, but once the work was done, they chased us away,” she added.
After the 2016 assembly election, the BJP formed its first government in the state with the help of the BPF, which has 12 seats in the state house. The BJP, with 60 seats, also has an alliance with the AGP, which has 14 MLAs, to have a comfortable majority in the 126-member Assam assembly.
Allies BJP and BJP, however, found themselves on the warpath after the latter rejected the third Bodo Accord, signed on 27 January 2020.
With the signing of the accord, the Bodoland Territorial Area Districts — comprising the districts of Udalguri, Chirang, Kokrajhar and Baksa — was rechristened Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR). The accord also set the stage for a possible realignment of the area, to include more tribal areas, and allow non-tribal ones to opt out.
However, Mohilary said, the accord brought no benefit for the Bodos.
In April 2020, the two parties again found themselves on different pages when the BTC was placed under governor’s rule. The BPF subsequently announced it would be looking for alternatives, while the BJP cosied up to the UPPL, led by Pramod Bodo.
“The reason why the BJP chose UPPL is because they want the BTR Accord, which is their brainchild, to be implemented through Pramod Bodo, who also has the support of the NDFB factions. Hagrama was not in support of this,” said Mahanta.
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