| Prafulla Mahanta |
Guwahati, April 27: The triumphant return of former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta to the helm of affairs at the AGP headquarters at Ambari, after over a decade, is only half the battle won for the survivor in the seasoned politician and the party.
The flurry of congratulatory and adulatory calls and messages flowing in since last evening are well earned: for having won fair and square the support of most grassroots leaders, and the party for having taken the bold and unprecedented step of embracing intra-party democracy in real sense of the term.
But the real test for both begins now. They need to seize the opportunity to turn over a new leaf.
The mandate for Mahanta, as leader of the elected team, is to give AGP the leadership, the direction and the vision it so badly deserves. More so because the verdict has come against the impression most AGP watchers and insiders have of him: that of a politician who is well past his sell-by-date, who flatters only to deceive time and again, who cannot look beyond his impregnable inner circle of party colleagues, immediate family members and self-seekers.
The vote is proof of the fact that within the party the ghosts of secret killings, an alleged affair with a Dispur lady and allegations of corruption that were never proved despite all the noise, have now been laid to rest. Also that the most serious charge — that of secret kilings the Congress used to the hilt to bring Mahanta down whenever the need arose — didn’t convince the majority of the party in the long run. Since the party has voted him back to power, he now gets to speak from the pulpit.
AGP’s history must have also gone in Mahanta’s favour during the vote: he set up the party and brought it to power in 1985. If that victory against the Congress was a given, what with the overwhelming sentiment for the student leaders, the one in 1996 was a hard-fought battle that brought down Assam's most hard-nosed politician of the time, Hiteswar Saikia. Mahanta is the only one in the AGP who has that feather in his cap. All others have failed in the electoral arena.
Apart from personal likes and dislikes, based on facts and fiction, the challenges before Mahanta and the party are, however, mammoth and the disconnect with the people huge, if not insurmountable. All the electoral debacles post-1996 prove that.
The next couple of months will show where Mahanta and the party are headed. The signals he sends to the masses by way of his vision and the people he picks up to head the various committees and sub-committees will be an indication of lessons learnt — or not — from past mistakes.
One thing is clear. He has to work doubly hard and spend more time winning over his detractors. He has the support of just more than 50 per cent of the party’s electorate. In a way, it is good that the election was not “unanimous” — the hallmark of most Congress “elections” — thanks to a matured AGP electorate.
The message, therefore, is loud and clear to the party leadership: reinvent from within and outside by reaching out to the new generations of voters as well rope in fresh, honest and able hands in positions of influence. Being a survivor may not be good enough anymore, certainly not when expectations are soaring! And nothing changes that fact that Mahanta is 59 and no longer what he was when he became chief minister in 1985 at 33 years. If the old guard-in-chief has been voted back to power within the AGP, the only way forward could very well be with the new.