Trouble in the AGP

Sushanta Talukdar

THE ASOM Gana Parishad (AGP) could be heading for a split. The cracks have widened after the party's steering committee served a show cause notice to its founder-president and former Assam Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta. The charge against Mr. Mahanta is that he publicly criticised the party leadership.

Mr. Mahanta, in a recent interviewto a satellite TV channel, is alleged to have said that some leaders, responsible for the split in the party in 1991 with the help of the Congress, were now calling the shots in the AGP. In 1991, Brindaban Goswami had teamed up with the former Assam Home Minister, Bhrigu Kumar Phukan, and raised the banner of revolt against Mr. Mahanta and formed the Natun Asom Gana Parishad. The NAGP merged with the AGP before the 1996 Assembly polls.

Upping the ante

Now, with the Assembly elections less than a year away, Mr. Goswami, the present AGP chief, and his loyalists have upped the ante. Unless Mr. Mahanta retracts his statement he could face disciplinary action.

This is the second time in less than a year that a show-cause notice has been served on Mr. Mahanta. In August 2004, a similar notice was served on him. He was stripped of all organisational posts and banned from holding any party post at any level.

The reason given was that a "personal affair" of the former Chief Minister had "lowered the public image of the regional party."

The AGP sought an explanation from Mr. Mahanta following media reports about bigamy charges against him by a woman. Mr. Mahanta then submitted a brief reply saying that the incident was a purely personal matter and would in no way affect the party's image.

In September 2001, Mr. Mahanta had quit as AGP president after the woman levelled bigamy charges against him. This was in the aftermath of the AGP's debacle in the May 2001 Assembly election. Denying the charges, Mr. Mahanta described it as a conspiracy to malign him. On September 6, 2001, Mr. Goswami was made AGP president. Gradually,Mr. Goswami consolidated his position even as Mr. Mahanta went into political hibernation.

After a while Mr. Mahanta began efforts to stage a comeback. He even contested for the post of president at the AGP's triennial conference in Tezpur in January 2004. He, however, lost and Mr. Goswami was re-elected. Most of Mr. Mahanta's loyalists have shifted allegiance to Mr. Goswami. None of them wants to risk being denied the party ticket for next year's Assembly election. Meanwhile, the Mahanta camp has attributed the charges against the former Chief Minister to pressure mounted on the AGP leadership by the All Assam Students' Union.

The AASU under Mr. Mahanta had spearheaded the anti-foreigners' agitation in Assam in 1979 that led to the AGP's formation in 1985. Later, the AASU dubbed Mr. Mahanta a "traitor" for his failure to implement the Assam Accord despite the AGP being in power for two terms under his leadership.

Goswami loyalists believe a new-look AGP without Mr. Mahanta will dilute the Congress' campaign and help the party to recapture power. The Mahanta camp, on the other hand, has been saying that Mr. Goswami lacks charisma and that the party would be better off fighting the elections under Mr. Mahanta.

Crucial convention

All eyes are now on June 27 convention convened by the Mahanta loyalists under the banner of a new platform — Sanmilita Yuba Samaj. Invitations have been extended to various political parties and organisations. Mr. Goswami has clarified that the proposed convention has nothing to do with the AGP although some of the organisers may be associated with the party.

The moderates in the AGP still hope for a patch-up between the two camps but the proposed convention could emerge as a turning point in the State's politics.

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