Regionalism is not a new concept in India. Right from the days of Independence regional agitations and forces have made their mark in the Indian political scenario. The Dravida movement in Tamil Nadu or the Telengana agitation in Andhra Pradesh was one of the first such examples. Later, the bifurcation of Bombay state into Maharasthra and Gujarat was also the result of regional aspirations. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Akali Dal’s emergence in Punjab was also because of rising anger against the treatment meted out to Punjab by the Centre. But nothing caught the imagination of the nation as the Assam agitation against illegal migrants in the state and later the emergence of the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) as a genuine regional political party.
After it was formed by the leaders of the historic agitation, the AGP, since 1985, has been the firm torch-bearer of regional hopes and aspirations. The AGP’s success in Assam’s political scenario gave fillip to such regional forces in the neighboring states too although it must be acknowledged that the All Party Hill Leaders Conference (APHLC) was the path-breaking force in the Khasi-Jaintia and Garo Hills which later became one state of Meghalaya.
And yet, there are doubts raised by many about the relevance of a regional party in today’s increasingly competitive politics. A closer look at the ground reality in the country’s electoral politics however presents a totally different picture. Over the last 20 years, no single political party has been able to gain an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha. The last time anyone had a semblance of majority was the landslide win by the Congress in 1984 under the newly-annoinnated Rajiv Gandhi. But Rajiv Gandhi’s overwhelming majority evaporated in the smokescreen of the Bofors scandal and since then no single party has been able to the required majority on its own. VP Singh’s and then the short-lived Chandra Shekhar governments were a travesty of democracy. PV Narasimha Rao government survived at the mercy of the Jharkhand defectors; the United Front governments under both HD Deve Gowda and IK Gujral were destined for failure given their loose confederation-like arrangement. The subsequent Vajpayee regime has survived on the strength of 24 (24!!) disparate parties.But one fact that clearly emerges out of the look back on the past two decades is this: the regional parties hold the whip hand when it comes to deciding the fate of the central government. A Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu, a Laloo Yadav in Bihar or a Mulayam Singh in Uttar Pradesh or the Chandrababu Naidu-led TDP in Andhra Pradesh are the parties and personalities that are more powerful then the BJP and the Congress, our two main political forces, simply because without them, neither can form the government at the Centre. The reality is regional forces are on the upswing simply because they understand the ethos, the aspirations, the frustrations and even the needs of the people in the area that they serve.
It is in this context that the relevance of a regional force like the AGP must be viewed. AGP may be out of power in Assam at the moment but the views and ideology that it represents cannot be ignored. A regional party like the AGP understands the feeling of the people better than any national party can ever do; a party like the AGP has no high command like the Congress or the BJP other than the people themselves. The leaders in the party are free to take their own decision without bothering about the so-called “central leadership.” Simply put, a regional force truly represents the people’s concerns. All other parties, be the Congress, the BJP or the Communists have to be under the influence of the leaders in Delhi who simply have no comprehension about the problems and prospects in a distant place like Assam or the rest of the North-east.
It is therefore essential to strengthen the regional forces like the Asom Gana Parishad in the greater interest of the people of Assam. After all whatever development that has come about in Assam in the past two decades is only because of the relentless efforts of the Asom Gana Parishad.