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Congress hegemony likely to end

Prospects of Cong ruling Assam on its own might come to an end with polls suggesting a fractured mandate.

india Updated: May 09, 2006 20:28 IST

The prospects of the Congress party ruling Assam on its own is likely to come to an end with all indicators suggesting a fractured mandate.

Counting of votes cast in the two-stage elections to the 126-member Assam legislature that concluded last month is to begin on Thursday.

Various exit and opinion polls have indicated a hung assembly with the main opposition Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) making a resurgent bid to storm the seat of power.

Although both the major players - the Congress and the AGP - claim they will reach the magic figure of 64, it is unlikely that either will be able to form a government without outside support.

"We are sure of forming the government although we have contingency plans in the event of a different result," Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said.

The newly formed Asom United Democratic Front (AUDF), a Muslim-based party, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could probably emerge as kingmakers.

Wily AUDF leader Badruddin Ajmal has already made his options known - the party might either support the AGP and could even side with a Congress without Gogoi.

The ruling Congress in Assam is believed to have made up its mind to have a new leader to head the state if the party under Gogoi's leadership fails to get a comfortable majority.

The Congress party think-tank has already got a back-up plan ready in the event of a hung assembly where the party might have the chance to form a government with the support of independents and other parties.

"If things come to such a pass that taking the support of AUDF becomes necessary to form a government, we are ready to do that and even have a new leader other than Gogoi," said a senior Congress leader.

Gogoi had earlier said in public he was "not worried for the chief ministerial chair", but would never take the support of the AUDF.

The name doing the rounds as Gogoi's alternative is Bijoy Handique, the central minister of state for chemicals and fertilisers.

"Handique will be the unanimous choice if Tarun Gogoi is to be replaced. The change in leadership might take place as Ajmal is totally opposed to supporting the Congress if Gogoi is made chief minister," the Congress leader said.

Although the AGP had a pre-poll alliance with the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), it might break the partnership and take the support of the BJP if the situation compels.

"We are sure of forming the government with our allies," senior AGP leader Biren Baishya said. The AGP leader, however, evaded a direct reply when asked if the BJP was out of the reckoning if the political situation demanded such an alliance post-poll.

The next few days, if indicators of a hung assembly prove right, will witness hectic politicking with the Congress and the AGP set to do some hard bargaining with the AUDF and the BJP, besides independents and smaller parties.