Assam Assembly polls: Cong-Ajmal pact would have been zero sum game

BJP workers celebrate in Guwahati, Thursday. Ram Madhav said the party ‘did not make a single mistake’. (Express Photo: Dasarath Deka)

As the BJP stitched up an alliance with regional/ethnic/local parties in Assam, the Congress leadership in the state came under tremendous pressure to broaden its support base. Some were in favour of tying up with Badruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF so as to prevent the split of Muslim votes, accounting for over a third of Assam’s electorate; others were against any formal or informal alignment with that party.

It was reasoned that a formal alliance with the AIUDF would provide additional fuel to religious polarisation, leading to a blunting of the complex socio-political cleavages of which the Congress has been the main beneficiary. In such a situation, even traditional Hindu supporters of the party might turn towards the BJP-led alliance, as the wider Assamese society sees AIUDF as a Muslim communal party. In other words, the cost of having an alliance would be greater than not having it. Eventually, the latter point of view prevailed, and the state Congress leadership chose to go solo, although it failed to stop speculation about a secret alliance with the AIUDF.

The Congress’s performance is its worst ever in Assam. Many observers feel it has paid a heavy price for not having an alliance with the AIUDF. Muslim votes, the CSDS post-poll survey shows, were badly divided between the Congress and AIUDF. This seems to have cost the two parties as many as 15 seats. In these seats, where the BJP-led alliance won, the combined vote share of the Congress and AIUDF was greater.

And yet, the Congress’s decision to keep the AIUDF away was not entirely devoid of merit. As the survey findings demonstrate, while AIUDF supporters would have backed a Congress-AIUDF alliance overwhelmingly (75%), only a fourth of Congress Hindu voters approved of such a tie-up. It can be inferred that a large section of Hindu voters who did actually vote for the Congress might not have done so if the party had gone with the AIUDF.

Thus, while the Congress could have won a few more seats in lower Assam by forging an alliance with the AIUDF, it might have lost many more seats in other regions due to such an alliance. For the Congress, an alliance with AIUDF would have been a zero sum game. The party would still have lost the way it did.