Log in

In-Depth: The Last Battle of Saraighat!

By now, all the political parties of Assam have agreed that this election is the ‘Last Battle of Saraighat’. Though the perception of all the political parties differ, at least the common agenda they are in is too get the votes of the indigenous people in their favor. If the BJP is saying that this battle is against the messiah of outsiders (Foreigners most illegal Bangladeshis), the Congress is saying that this battle is against the divisive forces. And for the less prominent All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), this battle is to safeguard the secular fabric.

Amidst all these chaos, the main issues of the State have literally found less space in this election. From massive hoardings to social media campaigning, all the major political parties are leaving no stone unturned to woo the voters. If one is using a most commonly used dialogue of the Chief Minister to attack him, the latter’s party is using the Rs 20 lakh suit and ‘Freedom of Speech’ as a weapon it. But as of now, the minds of the voters are clear on what they want and whom they want to lead.

Under the leadership of Tarun Gogoi, the Congress is eyeing a fourth consecutive term, whereas the BJP is gearing up to taste power for the first time in the history of the State. The road is not smooth for the Congress, like that was in previous occasions, but let us not forget that it is neither easy for the BJP. The BJP is pitching for change in full throttle, but the failed promises of 2014 have shielded the Congress. On the other hand, the Congress is showing the vast picture of change and development it has brought to the State. With slogans like ‘Pundhoro Bosoror Bikakh, Pundhoro Bosoror Biswakh’ (Fifteen Years of Development and Fifteen Years of Trust), the Congress is slightly ahead in the race to Dispur, but not confident, like they were five years back.

Senior advocate of Gauhati High Court Nekibur Zaman has something interesting to say in this regard. Few days back when I called him up at his residence, Zaman said, “People are talking about change, but that change doesn’t always means a change in the government, it can be any change in any form of politics and the agendas of the government. People want change, but do we have any option. We really don’t have much option. BJP’s divisive politics on the lines of religion and AIUDF’s politics of safeguarding the illegal Bangladeshi’s is known to all. So, where is the option?”

Another senior advocate Uttam Kumar Borthakur says, “The change we are talking about is rubbish. There will be change if the political parties come up with a concrete agenda. But, in this election, the political parties have no agenda at all. All we have been witnessing is politics of manipulation. What are we talking about?”

Renowned music composer, singer, actor and director Zubeen Garg expects change. When I called him up few days back, he said, “The people of Assam need change. We want more youths as representatives who can fight hand in hand to bring the desired change. We need change in vision and agenda so that our State reaches the peak of development.”

The youths however have a different take. With unemployment on the rise, they indeed want a change to take place this time, but with no options on sight, they are now more or less disoriented. Uddipana Goswami, a prominent debater and a student of Tezpur University says, “We want a change in the government. We had high hopes on the regionalist camp and the student leaders. But, the change of color by some students’ union leader overnight by joining national political parties which they always opposed as student leaders had greatly disappointed many of us, who always wanted to see the flag of regionalism flying high. Today, we don’t have much option. Whom will we vote- the student leaders who deceived us or the divisive forces that are a threat to the unity of the State or the communal one which is always busy in vote bank policy?”

Under such scenario, it is almost clear as of now that the State of Assam is heading to have a hung house. But going by the pulse of the voters, I can predict that the hung house will be led by the Congress as the single largest party, though it will be short of majority.

Though, the opinion polls that were out few days back have put up a different picture, I personally believe that it is quite impossible for anyone to predict the results when it comes to a vast State like Assam, a State which speaks in different accent, language and dialect.

When the Congress came to power in April 2001, the mighty Brahmaputra was red, with a thick layer of blood. People were afraid to step out of their house after sunset. Police, army and ‘unknown forces’ (often referred as secret killers) frequently roamed the streets and killed anyone who tried to raise a voice against the government. But in the last 15 years, things have changed a lot. From a small insecure city, Guwahati emerged as the first metropolitan of the region. This all happened in the last 15 years and people have witnessed it.

A noted intellectual of the State, who requested anonymity said, “The law and order situation of the State is far better now. 15 years down the line, it was blood everywhere. The secret killers were roaming in broad daylight in disguise targeting people. No one dared to raise a voice against the government. Even if someone did, he was dealt with brutally. Many were killed, many others were put in jail. This is not happening now. Today we are openly criticizing the government and Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, but he is not trying to suppress our voice of dissent. He is respecting the beauty of democracy, the freedom of speech given by the constitution. He is not up to the fascist tactics adopted by the previous government.”

ALLIANCE-GRAND ALLIANCE ETC

Ahead of the Assam Legislative Assembly Election 2016, the talk of the town was all about alliance and grand alliance. Some prominent politicians like All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) supremo Maulana Badruddin Ajmal,  ex-chief minister and AGP leader Prafulla Kumar Mahanta and Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, inspired by the ‘Grand Alliance’ in Bihar tried to made it happen in Assam. The name of Prashant Kishore echoed from every nook and corner of the State at that point in time. But it never happened in reality. The AIUDF recently formed a ‘grand alliance’ with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Janata Dal- United (JDU), however, the chances of RJD and JD(U) winning a single seat in Assam is next to impossible. But, Ajmal has kept his door open to the Congress.

On the other hand, after a lot of drama, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) which was once the main opposition in the State, joined hands with the BJP and is contesting in 25 seats. However, a close study of the AGPs performance in the last 10 years suggest that this time the party is not going to win more than 10 seats. Similarly, the Bodoland Peoples Front (BPF) led by Hagrama Mohilary joined hands with the BJP after the latter who is in power at the Center assured a package of Rs 1000 crore for  Bodoland.

The Congress on the other hand, decided to go alone in this election. But, many doubt that it is having an understanding with some political parties like that of the AIUDF and the AGP. Even though the AGP has entered into a pre-poll alliance with the BJP, the regional party have violated the alliance on many counts. AGP strongman Prafulla Kumar Mahanta even threatened to call off the alliance at any moment. A party insider informed a few days back, that the AGP would go with the one who will have a fair chance to form the government.

The AGP-BJP alliance led both the parties to split. Some AGP leaders and supporters formed the Trinamool AGP and the BJP dissidents formed the Trinamool BJP. Though they have fielded their own candidates in various constituencies, to be honest these factions doesn’t have any electoral future. However, their acts will only help the Congress in those constituencies.

Meanwhile, the Akhil Gogoi factor will play a crucial role in some pockets. The Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti leader is allegedly throwing his weight behind the Congress. However, in some pockets like Dhekiajuli is giving a stand against the Congress candidate to help BJP’s Ashok Singhal who is boycotted by the people of the constituency. It may be mentioned that Akhil Gogoi has a stronghold among the peasant community particularly in Middle Assam and Upper Assam areas.



THE MANIFESTOS

"A failed government is trying to find excuses where none exists. There is a desire for change which is sweeping the State. People of Assam are tired of slogans and they want development. The youth here crave for growth. The core strength of our alliance is the youth here and the youth is leading that campaign for a change,” BJP leader Arun Jaitley said recently as he released the BJPs Vision Document in Guwahati.

Blaming the Congress-led Assam government for infiltration from Bangladesh, the BJP on Friday assured people it would end the problem of infiltration and detect and deport illegal migrants as well as seal the India-Bangladesh border. "Our main emphasis will be on infiltration," Jaitley said, a dialogue which helped Modi to win the 2014 Lok Sabha Election in Assam.

The Vision Document promises to implement the Assam Accord in letter and spirit, protect the Xatras and other religious, cultural and ecological land from infiltrators, evict encroachers, set up villages of ex-servicemen along Indo-Bangla border and scrutinize the citizenship of all suspected residents of the State in conformity with the upgraded NRC.

The BJP has assured the public in its Vision Document of enacting a law to deal firmly with industries, businesses, small and medium enterprises or any other agencies employing infiltrators.

On the other hand, the Congress, in its manifesto promised to seal the Indo-Bangla international border and set up inspection committees in all districts to detect illegal migrants, something common with that of the BJP Vision Document, and something which they failed to do in the last 15 years.

It also promised steps to shift the Tea Board headquarters to Assam and make it mandatory for all tea companies to have their main offices in the State.

The ruling party also vowed to bring in a scheme to ensure housing for all and an ambitious plan to check erosion in the Brahmaputra and Barak valleys.



CAMPAIGNING & DISTORTION OF HISTORY

For his repeated claim of having the blood of the legends like the Great Ahom General Lachit Borphukan, freedom fighter Subhash Chandra Bose and many others, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi is often mocked by the opposition as a ‘mobile blood bank’. On the other hand, for the opposition and liberals, the BJP and its leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi is best only in giving assurance, but not in delivering.

Amit Shah during an election rally in Upper Assam distorted the Assam History as he went on to claim that the first Ahom Emperor, Swargadeo Chaolung Sukaphaa defeated the Mughals 17 times. Whereas the fact is, Swargadeo Sukaphaa founded the Ahom Kingdom in 1228 and the Mughal Empire was founded in 1526. This sparked a sharp reaction in social media as well as in order circles.

Similarly, Narendra Modi’s demeaning remark on Tarun Gogoi’s surname (Modi spelled Gogoi as Go-Go-E) too offended the Ahom community as much as it offended the people of the State when Gogoi said in a public meeting that Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi is the General of the people of Assam in this ‘Last Battle of Saraighat’.



THE CANDIDATES IN FRAY

The candidate’s lists of almost all the major political parties came as a great disappointment to many.

The list Congress candidates features some kith and kin of prominent Congress leaders. To begin with, let’s take the name of Angkita Dutta, daughter of Assam Pradesh Congress Committee president Anjan Dutta. Angkita is the vice president of the Sivasagar Lok Sabha Youth Congress. But many feel that it is too early for her to enter electoral politics. Same is in the case of Roselina Tirkey, daughter of MLA Aklius Tirkey, or Sushil Pegu whose father was a minister.

The BJP on the other hand, which always targeted the Congress over dynasty politics however, have no ammo this time as they themselves endorsed dynasty politics by fielding Suman Hari Priya, daughter of senior BJP leader and MP Bijoya Chakraborty as a BJP candidate for the Hajo LAC.

The overall candidates list of both, the Congress and the BJP is very disappointing. Though the Congress tried to bring in some fresh young faces this time, they failed miserably as most of this young leaders have no connection with the grassroots. Throughout their stint in the youth Congress, they were mostly busy in making their face visible to the senior leaders to secure a berth in the fray to get candidature and thereafter to the Assembly. The BJP on the other hand, failed to rope in young faces except that of the new BJP’s who joined the party along with Himanta Biswa Sarma who was once a blue eyed boy of Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi. The spilt in the BJP following its alliance with the AGP and later with the announcement of the candidates list, is probably the last nail in the coffin of BJP. Though it is a bit early to reach a conclusion, I’m quite sure that it will force the BJP to perform at the worst level.

“The lists of candidates of the BJP as well as the Congress are very disappointing. The candidates fielded by both the parties lack vision. They have no clear agenda. They don’t know what they should do and how,” said Dr Navanil Barua.

He further added, “With such lists, both the Congress and the BJP will have a neck to neck fight, many from both the parties will definitely lose.”

However, Angkita Dutta, candidate of Amguri constituency and daughter of APCC president Anjan Dutta who is taking on AGP heavyweight Pradip Hazarika has a different take. According to her, the ratio of dynasty politics is too low considered it is the Congress party which has members who are active since 1947. “In the first list  of the Congress, out of 64 candidates only 17 were relatives of Congress leaders and I seriously think that the ratio is justified. Moreover, all those who have been given candidature by the Congress deserve the same".



PERFORMANCE OF THE PRESENT GOVERNMENT

If we go for the performance chart of the Congress government which is in the seat of power at Dispur since 2001, one can say that the pace of development had been too slow, but cannot rule it out. The Tarun Gogoi government had a lot of awards to its credit- which, definitely not proves massive developmental activities, but indeed speaks in volumes about the Assam post 2001. From road connectivity to development in the health and education sector to infrastructure development, Assam is now way ahead of its sisters (the other Northeastern States). The law and order situation, as I already quoted earlier, has developed significantly and no one can rule it out.

The major booster is, however, the Self Help Groups (SHGs) which have been playing a decisive role since 2006 Assembly Elections. From Sadiya bordering Arunachal Pradesh to Dhubri, in the Indo-Bangladesh border, take a round of Assam, you will come across thousands of SHGs. It will be not exaggerating to state that in every by-lane of the State there you will find at least two SHGs. Being a society which values the decision of the woman of the house, the SHGs play the most crucial role. The SHGs on the other hand, have been beneficiaries of several government schemes, from Agriculture to Livestock, the government had made these women self dependent. This is something which will continue to help the Congress for at least one term- i.e. for 2016-2021.



VOTE POLARISATION

The polarization of votes will play a crucial role this time. With the six ethnic communities (Moran, Muttock, Chutia, Koch Rajbangsi, Tai Ahom &Tea Tribes) still in a fix, it is very difficult to predict as whom they will vote. The six ethnic communities have been alleging that Narendra Modi led NDA government has deceived them in the name of ST status and this time they will teach the BJP a lesson. However, they are also not happy with the Congress government in the State as it too kept politicizing the issue of ST status even though they were in power at the Centre as well as in the State for a considerable period of time.

It may be noted that these six ethnic communities are decisive factor in many constituencies of the State. And despite have representations in parliament as well as the State Assembly, they have a whole lot of problems which remained unsolved since ages and are now only growing into bigger problems.

But the significance about these ethnic communities is that their prime concern is their own problems and the greater interest of the State hardly finds any space in their discussions.



MONEY POWER

The crackdowns on prominent political leaders of the State from time to time have proved that Money Power plays an important role in the politics of Assam. People mostly from the backward places of the State are always up to sell their votes for a few crispy currency notes. This trend of ‘vote buying’ mostly comes with a bonus of free liquor. The tea belts and the tribal belts of the State are very prone to this and unfortunately they are the one who plays the decisive role in the State.



One cannot predict the outcome of a battle, and as said at very beginning, this election is the ‘Last Battle of Saraighat’, for many journalists as well as political analysts this election is one of the most crucial elections. Though the elections are knocking at the door, it is still uncertain as who is set to form the next government in the State. The Congress is advance in the fray, but the sail is not in their favor too. Amidst the hullabaloo of the loudspeakers and the sounds of the choppers flying in the sky, all we have to do now is to wait till May 19. 



CANDIDATES TO WATCH (BOX ITEM)

Tarun Gogoi, Chief Minister of Assam: He has been representing Titabor constituency since last 15 years. Titabor has witnessed a lot of developments in this period. Mostly, for being the constituency of the Chief Minister. It is a smooth sail for Gogoi in Titabor. A fourth consecutive win from Titabor is certain for him being the sitting Chief Minister.

Opponent: Kamakhya Prasad Tassa, MP, Jorhat Constituency, BJP’s candidate for Titabor.

Sarbananda Sonowal, Chief Ministerial Candidate, BJP: Sarbananda Sonowal, often referred as the ‘Jatiya Nayak’ (National Hero) of Assam for his role in abolishing the IMDT Act, Sonowal is contesting from Majuli, the centre of Vaishnavism in Assam. His poor performance as Union Minister of State for Skill Development is often a target point of Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, but Sonowal added a feather to his cap by organizing the Nation Youth Conference at Majuli in 2014 and the South Asian Games in Assam and Meghalaya recently. Considering his Vaishnavite root, he will probably have the last laugh in Majuli.

Opponent: Rajib Lochan Pegu, Congress

Himanta Biswa Sarma, BJP’s 2nd in Command: The former blue eyed boy of Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi abandoned the Congress after a two year long tussle with the Chief Minister and joined the BJP.  He is representing the Jalukbari constituency since 2001. Though he has switched over to another party which stands on another ideological pole with that of the Congress, this has little to do with the voters of the Jalukbari constituency. For them, it is Himanta Biswa Sarma now and Himanta Biswa Sarma forever. In the last 15 years the Jalukbari constituency had witnessed many developmental activities. Many youths from this constituency got government jobs, thanks to Himanta Biswa Sarma.

Opponent: He literally has no opponent in Jalukbari. At least for the next 10 years Jalukbari is with Himanta Biswa Sarma.

Maulana Badruddin Ajmal: The AIUDF supremo, who is also the MP of Dhubri constituency is contesting the Assam Assembly Election this time, with only one dream- to be the King Maker. Since 2006, he had been eyeing to become one. This time, he is in a fix whether to go with the Congress or the BJP. The agenda is clear- whoever comes out as the single largest party will get his support. Reward he seek- well, the Deputy Chief Minister’s chair.

Opponent: Both the BJP and the Congress have fielded weak candidates against him.

Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, ex-CM: He is representing the Barhampur constituency for the last 30 years. Yes, you read it right. After stepping out of the Gauhati University he joined politics in 1985, and since then he has been representing the constituency. No matter, his party has very less significance now, but this AGP strongman (Founder of the party) is undefeatable in Barhampur.

Opponent: You must be joking!

Phanibhushan Choudhury, AGP: This AGP strongman has no opponent in Bongaigaon constituency. There are very few leaders in Assam who have succeeded in keeping a hold on the masses and he is one. Respected by all the politicians of the State cutting across party lines, Choudhury is set for the seventh consecutive term this time.

Opponent: Former AASU president Shankar Prasad Ray is contesting against him. But, Ray will not succeed in showing the way out to Choudhury.

Pawan Singh Ghatowar, Former Union Minister: After a humiliating defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, this Congress strongman from the tea tribe is now contesting from Moran LAC, which was earlier represented by his wife. Though it will be a smooth sail for Ghatowar in Moran, it will create another power center within the Congress.

Opponent: Chakra Gogoi, BJP

Rockybul Hussain: The Congress strongman from Samaguri constituency who had been like a deputy to the Chief Minister since a long time is the undisputable leader of his constituency. The most prominent minority face of the Tarun Gogoi cabinet got some extra mileage recently following an untimely raid by the IT department and the Election Commission. The raid generated a wave of support in his favour.

Opponent: His opponent will not give any contest to him. However, BJP has fielded controversial businessman Jitu Goswami against him.

Siddhartha Bhattacharya: Former State BJP president and National spokesperson of the party is contesting from East Guwahati constituency. He have fair chances to win the election this time.

Opponent: Bobeeta Sarma, Congress.

Pranab Gogoi: The Congress strongman from Sivasagar constituency is a favourite of Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi. He is the undisputed leader of Sivasagar. APCC president Anjan Dutta was eyeing to contest from Sivasagar constituency this time, but the Chief Minister deprived the APCC president.

Opponent: Jayanta Rajkonwar, IND candidate supported by Trinamool BJP.

Pradyut Bordoloi: An alumni of St. Stephens College, New Delhi, senior Congress leader Pradyut Bordoloi was once a powerful minister in the Tarun Gogoi cabinet. However, he too failed to solve the power crisis of the State. Immensely popular for his vocabulary, this Congress strongman is quite confident of another term as MLA of Margherita.

Opponent: Bhaskar Sarma, BJP (Infamous SULFA leader, accused by the United Liberation Front of Asom - Independent as the Commander-in-Chief of the secret killing that haunted the State till April 2001).

Leave a comment

18°C

Itanagar

Haze

Humidity: 90%

Wind: 3.22 km/h

  • 24 Mar 2016 27°C 13°C
  • 25 Mar 2016 29°C 15°C