In a General Election where battles lines are sharply drawn up over each Lok Sabha seat, the 25 odd Lok Sabha constituencies from North East India are naturally inviting VIPs in their droves.
Assam had three high profile visitors or prime ministerial candidates if you will, last month underscoring the importance of the region in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections. In a flurry of activity, Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi and Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee rushed to Assam hawking their own unique style of promises and allurements.
What were common were the attacks on opposition leaders by all three. BJP prime ministerial hopeful Narendra Modi took on the Gandhi family and Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi. In his maiden foray, Rahul did not mention Modi by name but criticized the opposition parties as a non-secular front of parties.
Modi visited the state on February 8 and his rally reportedly drew a crowd of not less than a lakh-strong. Rahul’s rally on February 24 was held amidst huge protests and declaration of an Assam bandh by six different organizations. It took its toll on numbers: close to 70,000 people attended his rally.
Bang next day, Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee, looking to expand her party’s base out of Bengal and on a visit to the state, issued a clarion call appealing to the people to throw out the Congress. “Congress is now full of corrupt people and corruption is their motto so people should not vote for them in the coming parliamentary election,’’ she roared in her inimitable style.
Says senior advocate and intellectual Nekibur Zaman, “Rahul has no knowledge of Assam. He has no idea about its caste and creed so his speech had some factual inaccuracies. He did not know the difference between tribal and adivasi and from his speech it was obvious that he was not familiar with the problems of the state. He did not speak about the burning issues that confront Assam like flood erosion and problems of illegal migrants.’’
Understandably, chief minister Tarun Gogoi believes otherwise. Refusing to draw comparisons, he said ``Rahul's visit to Assam is a grand success. Modi is like Hitler and his crocodile tears will not work in Assam. Rahul is democratic-minded so he met students as well as common men and women to understand their problems and to take suggestions. But Modi only speaks and does not care whether people are following him or not,’’ he emphasised.
The contrasting speeches have led to comparisons - however odious. Says retired professor AK Chowdhury: “Modi is a good orator and knows how to attract people through his words but Rahul is not a good orator, is simple and tries to keep away from complexities. His simplicity was evident when a woman present cried for help and submitted a memorandum. Rahul was rendered speechless and immediately told Gogoi to help her. It is a sign of his simplicity because dramas like these are enacted every day before politicians. So while Rahul might not be a good politician, as a human being he is good.’’ Fair point but will it be enough to get Congress the votes?
Apart from the big two, even Mamata Banerjee came in for praise. Points out popular Assamese film actor Biju Phukan: “Mamata is an honest politician. I was not interested in politics. But when I became aware of her past life full of struggles, I decided to meet her and join the Trinamool Congress. She thinks only for the common poor and knows how to respect people. She is my role model.’’
But opinion on the major national leaders remains divided. Popular Assam singer Jitul Sonowal says “Modi is magical. Now the people of India are singing with Modi; his personality is such that it attracts common people. He has knowledge about Assam and feels the sorrow of the people here.’’
But Congressmen – always votaries of family raj - point to a higher role that has been ordained for their party. Former education minister Ripun Bora says “It is not necessary to repeat the contribution of the Gandhi family. Rahul Gandhi does not want power and he is not hankering after it. His intention is not to create magic with his speech. He came to Assam only to understand problems of the state and to know what changes need to be introduced. But BJP accepts it as a challenge and compares the number of people who attended the two rallies. Congress has a long history so we should not compare Rahul with Modi. Please wait for results of the parliamentary elections. Only then will the BJP realize how the Modi magic has been nipped in the bud.’’
Says former Congress MP Kirip Chaliha: “BJP is a party which has no backbone. It once declares that it will fight election jointly with the regional party Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and now their state president Sarbananda Sonowal declares that their grass root workers do not want a union with the AGP. So, it is not clear yet whether the BJP will fight alone or not. How will common people have faith in them?’’ Good points to ponder for the state BJP.