Two-time former Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta has bounced back as leader of the Opposition 10 years after the party he founded made him an untouchable.
Late Saturday night, Mahanta was unanimously chosen leader of the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) Legislature Party. It turned out to be a mere formality as predecessor Chandra Mohan Patowary – he is the AGP president – had a month ago decided to quit the post of Opposition leader to “concentrate on strengthening the party”.
Mahanta’s comeback is seen as the AGP’s bid to reinstate him at the helm of party affairs. This, despite a clause that he would not hold a key post in the AGP within three years of the merger of his faction, AGP-Progressive, with the parent party in October 2008.
Mahanta’s election, though, wasn’t without some drama. Of the 24 legislators, former party president Brindaban Goswami and former minister Ramendra Narayan Kalita chose to skip the meeting that Patowary presided over.
Another MLA, Liaquat Ali, left the meeting early citing Ramzan-related reasons, but said he would accept whatever decision the party takes. Mahanta was subsequently named AGP Legislature Party leader.
“Nothing much should be read into the absence of some of our leaders,” said Patowary, adding his focus now would be on ensuring the AGP and its allies do well in the 2011 elections.
The 56-year-old Mahanta also ruled out opposition within the party over his election. “The party has reposed faith in me, and it is my duty to deliver,” he told HT.
Mahanta’s return coincides with an uncertainty surrounding the AGP’s electoral alliance with the BJP. A section within the AGP favours going it alone in the polls, as the BJP’s rise in Assam has been at the expense of the former.
A question mark also hangs over the Congress’ ties with ruling tribal ally Bodoland People’s Front, which as 12 legislators in the 126-member House. The Congress and its associates have 73 MLAs.