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BJP and AGP joins hand in Assam

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Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has made an alliance with the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) of Assam. This move is said to be an intelligent one which will definitely raise the hold of BJP as the days to the next election to the Assam assembly is closing by.

Although the Assam Pradesh Congress tried its best to keep the BJP and the AGP apart, an identical electoral base of the two parties has forced them not to split each other’s vote which would have brought about a mutual downfall.

Sarbananda Sonowal, the central sports and youth affairs minister and the state BJP president, did not appear to be enthused by the tie-up with AGP, as a section of the party, led by AGP legislative party leader Phanibhusan Chowdhury, is known to be close to the Congress. Members of this section had even met state chief minister Tarun Gogoi, of the Congress, a few days back.

The deal with the BJP, however, was clinched by the more powerful faction of the AGP, led by party president Atul Bora.

An undercurrent of misunderstanding in the alliance was inevitable as both the AGP and the BJP have their primary electoral base among the Assamese Hindu middle class, which controls the politics of the entire upper and central Assam.

In spite of the AGP’s fast dwindling support base, its call for regionalism still holds appeal in large parts of Assam. On the other hand, a vast number of Adivasi tribes working in numerous tea gardens of upper Assam had voted for the BJP in the last parliamentary elections.

As the AGP also enjoys acceptability in upper Assam and good rapport with numerous indigenous communities living on both sides of the Brahmaputra river, mutual contests between the AGP and the BJP would have benefited the Congress.

The Congress has decided to contest the elections alone, for the simple reason that other political outfits have chosen to avoid the Congress.

The Muslims, who constitute almost 34 percent of Assam’s population, particularly the Bengali speaking ones of lower Assam, are now tilting towards the All India United Democratic Front(AIUDF) of Badruddin Ajmal. This time, Congress is not even sure of support from the Assamese-speaking Muslims of upper Assam who had stood by the party during the last parliamentary poll.

A quick journey to the world of statistics will point out to the rising fortune of the BJP in Assam. From one percent vote in the 1985 assembly elections, the BJP has showed signs of ascendancy in 2006 assembly elections by capturing 12 percent votes.

In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, its share of vote jumped to 16 percent and the party captured four seats. Although in the 2011 assembly elections it experienced a slight reversal of fortunes, the party came out with flying colors in the 2014 Lok Sabha election when it captured 36 percent votes and seven out of the 14 Lok Sabha seats from Assam.

Observers of the northeastern politics think this time the BJP may lose some of its popularity among the Assamese Hindu voters due to its decision to grant the right of stay to immigrants who are minorities in Bangladesh and transfer of land under the Indo-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement. But these two factors may not be enough to shift the ground completely for the BJP.

For the Congress, lower Assam and the Barak Valley are two important areas. While lower Assam has 46 percent Muslim votes, the figure is 37 percent in the Barak Valley. However, in 2014, the Congress could capture only 23 percent of Muslim votes in these two regions.

The appearance of the AIUDF on Assam’s political map has brought about a qualitative change. The Front got 39 percent of the state’s Muslim votes in last polls while the Congress’ share came down to 40 percent.

There has been a 10 percent decline in the Congress’ overall vote share in Assam between the 2011 assembly elections and the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, and a major reason behind it is AIUDF’s poaching into Congress’s traditional vote bank of Muslims and the Bangladeshi immigrants. The AIUDF had won 18 seats in the 2011 assembly elections and led in 24 assembly segments in the 2014 parliamentary polls.

Anti-incumbency factor may go against the Congress this time. Tarun Gogoi is generally considered to be competent but there is a palpable yearning for a new face in the chief minister’s chair.

That the Congress and the AIUDF could not form an alliance is due to the fact that both are trying to outwit each other in order to become the principal face of the Muslim electorate. The AIUDF will contest in 60-odd seats and this does not augur well for the Congress.

The BJP’s small partners like the Boro People’s Front (BPF) with 2.1 percent votes will chip in for its success. The BPF had won 12 assembly seats in 2011 and the Boros have significant presence in 50 other seats.

Arithmetical calculations favour the BJP-AGP-BPF combination. But Tarun Gogoi has many upset victories to his credit. (IANS)

(Amitava Mukherjee is a senior journalist and commentator. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at amukherjee57@yahoo.com)

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What Would Be The Outcome Of The Judgement On Homosexuality With BJP At The Centre?

If parties like the BJP and "cultural" organisations like the RSS realise the value and motivation of such mindsets, they will desist from their present attempts to impose a straitjacket of their pseudo-religious identity on the nation.

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Flag Of BJP, homosexuality
Ruling on gays: Is the BJP out of sync with modern realities? Flickr

More than the social impact of the Supreme Court’s judgment on homosexuality, what will be of concern to the ruling party at the Centre is its political fallout. Hence, the eloquent silence of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the subject.

For the BJP and its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), any expansion of the concept of civil liberties is fraught with danger to their restrictive worldviews since a widening of human rights carries the prospect of greater individualism.

If the rights of the homosexuals to live without legal constraints are conceded, it can only encourage the people to free themselves of other restrictions as well such as on choosing live-in partners (of whatever sex) and eating, dressing and speaking as they please.

Homosexuality, India
SC decriminalises homosexuality, victory for gay rights. Pixabay

It is noteworthy that the verdict on gays has come close on the heels of the judgment which described the right to dissent as a “safety valve” which the government can only shut off at its peril lest there is an explosion.

Moreover, the court had also upheld not long ago the right to privacy which the government described as an “elitist” concept.

For the Hindu Right, as also for other religious fundamentalists, this dalliance with civil rights — the freedom to criticise the government, the exaltation of privacy and now the decriminalisation of homosexuality — entails a push towards liberalism and modernism which are anathema to any group which wants the society to be bound by shackles of orthodoxy and obscurantism.

It is ironic that although the Hindutva brotherhood speaks of decolonising the Indian mind, the two colonial laws which have long been its favourites are the section on homosexuality in the Indian Penal Code and on sedition.

Now that one of them is gone, there is little doubt that these closet followers of Britain’s 19th century politician Lord Macaulay — even as they decry the secular groups as “Macaulay’s children” — will hold on resolutely to the law on sedition as their only safeguard against the “anti-nationals” who, they believe, stalk the land.

Homosexuality
It is ironic that although the Hindutva brotherhood speaks of decolonising the Indian mind, the two colonial laws which have long been its favourites are the section on homosexuality in the Indian Penal Code and on sedition.
Wikimedia Commons

It is also possible that the saffronites will keep a hawk’s eye on any social problems that may arise because of the assertion of gay rights. As the BJP MP Subramanian Swamy has said, with eager anticipation, if a five-judge bench can overturn an earlier judgment in favour of criminalising homosexuality, a larger bench can undo the present verdict if gay bars begin to flourish and there is a rise in the cases of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infections.

Interestingly, what these judgments underline is how the judiciary is more attuned to the changing world than the elected representatives of the hoi polloi who often argue in favour of giving greater primacy to the legislature than the judiciary since they claim to represent the people while the judges are unelected denizens of an ivory tower.

However, one possible reason why MPs and MLAs, especially of the BJP, seem to be out of sync with the present-day world is the presence in their midst of a large number of criminal elements who can hardly be regarded as the most progressive sections of society.

For instance, of the 543 elected members of the Lok Sabha, of whom 186 have a criminal record, 63 belong to the BJP, followed by eight of the Shiv Sena, four of the Trinamool Congress and three each of the Congress and the AIADMK.

Homosexuality
Gay Pride Procession. Pixabay

What the Supreme Court judgment appears to have done is to persuade parties like the Congress, which usually hedges its bets lest it should fall on the wrong side of public opinion, to come out in the verdict’s favour, presumably because it senses that this judgment, more than any other, has become a touchstone in the matter of breaking out from the stranglehold of the past.

To distance a party from it, as the BJP is doing, will amount to virtually alienating the entire youth community. Even if a majority among them do not have homosexual instincts — according to official figures, there are 2.5 million gay people in India, but this may be an underestimate since, till now, it was unsafe for them to reveal their sexual orientation — the youths nevertheless see the ruling as an assertion of living life on one’s own terms and not be held hostage by the dictates of a society steeped in conservatism and of political parties which believe that their agenda can only advanced if the country is made forcibly to conform to khap panchayat-style social and cultural norms.

Also Read: Why JDU & BJP Coalition Will Remain Instant

To these youths, being or not being aware of homosexuality is of little consequence. What matters to them is to be able to make up their own minds and not be told by elders to abide by certain rules which are regarded as outdated by the younger generation.

If parties like the BJP and “cultural” organisations like the RSS realise the value and motivation of such mindsets, they will desist from their present attempts to impose a straitjacket of their pseudo-religious identity on the nation. (IANS)