As a student, he led one of the most powerful mass movements in India — the six-year-long anti-foreigners movement in Assam from 1979 to 1985. Prafulla Kumar Mahanta went on to become the youngest ever Chief Minister in India at the age of 33, heading the first Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) government in Assam. He also headed the second AGP-led government in 1996.
In the 2006 Assembly poll, Mr. Mahanta led a new regional party AGP (Pragatisheel) after he was expelled from the AGP in 2005 for alleged anti-party activities. Following his return to the AGP in 2008, grassroots workers hope that a united outfit will perform better in this Assembly election and recapture power in Dispur. He spoke to Sushanta Talukdar about his party's prospects. Excerpts:
How important are the 2011 Assembly elections for your party and for the future of regionalism in Assam?
The importance and relevance of regional parties in the context of Indian politics is growing every day. For upholding democratic values and for making Assam a corruption-free State, the 2011 Assembly elections are very important for the AGP. A regional party-led government can best address burning issues like the foreigners' problem, floods and erosion, backwardness, unemployment, and insurgency in the State. The national parties have always been indifferent to these problems and are not interested in solving them.
In the 2009 Lok Sabha poll, the Bharatiya Janata Party benefited more from the tie-up with the AGP. How do you see the rise of the BJP in Assam given your conviction that the State's future depends on regional parties?
The BJP could secure more seats only because of help from the regional parties. It is true that in the Lok Sabha polls the BJP benefited more from the alliance than the AGP. However, we have a strong conviction that only regionalism can ensure prosperity for Assam.
In the event of your party falling short of a majority, is the AGP open to a post-poll understanding with the BJP on government formation?
We are hopeful of securing the magic number on our own. Hence we have not given much thought to a post-poll alliance. We will take a decision on a post-poll alliance if the need arises depending on the poll outcome.
Your party was trying to push through a “grand alliance” of all non-Congress parties. Do you think the Congress will benefit because this never materialised?
We still believe that the grand alliance of all non-Congress parties would have been a better choice as it would have prevented a split of the non-Congress vote. On the floor of the Assembly, we succeeded in exposing rampant corruption, scams, and the misrule and failure of the Congress. Legislators of all the Opposition parties — the AGP, BJP, CPI(M), CPI, and the AIUDF — were united and maintained floor coordination. As a goodwill gesture and to send a message to the four Opposition parties on the need to forge a grand alliance, we decided not to field any candidate in the constituencies represented by their leaders.
The Congress may benefit in some constituencies due to the non-materialisation of the grand alliance.
What will be the top priorities of the AGP if it is given the mandate to rule again?
Our priorities will be to enact a strong legislation to eradicate and prevent corruption; implement the Assam Accord; compile the National Register of Citizens within two years; make sincere efforts to find a permanent solution to the insurgency problem acceptable to all by holding dialogue with all the insurgent outfits; and give employment to one lakh unemployed every year. We will also provide rice at Rs.2 a kilo to every poor family and free healthcare to all students up to the university level.