The Opposition parties in Assam failed to overcome their ideological differences and put up a consensus candidate to be elected to the Rajya Sabha along with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The elections are scheduled for May 24.
Consequently, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), the BJP and the pro-Muslim Asom United Democratic Front (AUDF) nominated a candidate each for the second RS seat on Monday, the last day of filing papers.
Two RS seats, one held by Singh and the other by BJP’s Indramoni Bora, would be falling vacant on June 14 necessitating the elections.
While the PM’s re-election for the fourth straight term he became an Elder for the first time in 1991 was never in doubt, the Congress’ decision not to put up a candidate for the second seat made the Opposition hunt for a consensus candidate.
But the Opposition parties remained fractured after over a week of negotiations. This resulted in the AGP nominating former minister Kumar Dipak Das and the BJP nominating State unit treasurer Vijay Gupta.
The AUDF, on the other hand, sprung a surprise by nominating controversial Congress leader Matang Singh.
The Bodoland Peoples’ Progressive Front (Hagrama), an ally of the ruling Congress, initially keen on putting up a candidate, withdrew at the last moment in the “greater interest of the coalition government”.
While the PM is expected to get the requisite 43 votes one-third the size of the 126-member House from 53 Congress MLAs, the competition among the three Opposition parties has made the second seat somewhat iffy. The second candidate would be requiring 28 votes to sail through.
“We should make it,” said AGP spokesman Apurba Bhattacharyya. The AGP has 24 MLAs and is backed by the Left parties and the regional Autonomous State Demand Committee, which have a combined strength of four in the Assam Assembly.
However, both the AGP and BJP are wary of Matang Singh, who had in the 1990s upset Congress calculations by winning as the secondary candidate. He had allegedly triggered cross voting, which led to the loss of the Congress’ primary candidate Naren Sarma.