Guwahati: A blazing row has erupted in Assam over reports that the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has struck a secret seat sharing deal with the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) for next month`s Assembly polls, leading to violent protests and a spate of resignations.
In public, both parties are maintaining there was no question of an alliance and that they would fight the elections independently.
But doubts cropped up after the second list of BJP candidates was announced over the weekend - BJP workers and supporters turned violent when they realised the leadership had fielded little known candidates in constituencies held by the AGP or in some seats where the regional party has potentially stronger candidates.
On Sunday, the BJP suffered a body blow, with three-time MP Rajen Gohain resigning as vice chairman of the party`s election campaign committee.
Gohain`s resignation comes in the wake of hundreds of BJP supporters vandalizing the party state headquarters in Guwahati for fielding "weak candidates". Such was the situation that riot police had to be called in and the top leadership fled the office on Saturday and stayed away even on Sunday.
"I am mentally disturbed to find none of the senior leaders present at the office to listen to the aggrieved party supporters. I take moral responsibility for the incident as my feelings are with the aggrieved workers," Gohain, MP from Nagaon, said in his resignation letter.
Another senior BJP leader and party spokesperson Charan Deka was the next casualty - he resigned from the party over the issue of a "secret AGP-BJP deal".
"I have decided to resign from the party as I think the decision to field weak candidates against some of the AGP leaders would be like digging our own graves. I think the BJP might not even cross the double digit mark in the elections going by the present set of candidates chosen by the BJP to fight the polls," Deka told a news agency.
"A secret deal has been struck by the two parties."
Elections for the 126-member legislature are scheduled for April 4 and 11.
But the BJP denies allegations of any secret seat sharing with the AGP.
"We are not going to review the list of candidates already announced and any indiscipline within the party would not be tolerated," said Vijay Goel, BJP national general secretary and party in-charge for Assam.
"There is no deal whatsoever."
While the BJP leadership was busy denying charges of a secret deal with the AGP, the later is quite open about expressing its goodwill for the BJP.
"I am happy to announce that the AGP is not fielding any candidate against BJP state president Ranjit Dutta (contesting from Behali seat in Sonitpur district) as a goodwill gesture since we had very good floor coordination during the just concluded Assembly session last month," AGP president Chandra Mohan Patowary said on Sunday.
Patowary`s public statement has further fuelled suspicion in the BJP camp that something did brew between the top leadership of the two parties regarding fielding `weak candidates` against each other.
At a time when the opposition should have been going all out against the Congress, leaders of the two parties are now busy trying to reject allegations of the `secret deal`.
But the Congress party has been quick to jump into the controversy.
"It is now well known that the AGP and the BJP worked out a deal. The people of Assam would teach the two parties yet another bitter lesson," Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi told a news agency.
AGP had a seat sharing arrangement with the BJP in the 2009 parliamentary elections but it managed to win just one of 14 seats, while the BJP grabbed four seats - the AGP in fact was down from two seats in 2004. In the 2001 assembly elections, the two parties had an alliance, but faced a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Congress.