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The Lotus Blooms Again


The arrogance and gross negligence of popular sentiment by Congress leaders and Badruddin Ajmal have helped BJP create a tsunami in Assam; Monalisa Gogoi reports from Guwahati
MONALISA GOGOI | Issue Dated: June 5, 2016, New Delhi
Tags : BJP | AASU Tapan | Paresh Barua | ULFA | Mrinal Saikia | Bismita Gogoi | Kirip Chaliha | Prafulla Mahanta |

The much awaited 14th assembly election has brought Sarbananda Sonowal-led BJP to every nook and corner of the state. Although people were expecting a verdict of change, no one could have imagined the magnitude.

“Pride will have a fall.” This old proverb echoes across the state and Congress leaders are the victims of that pride. Nine powerful and experienced ministers and leaders were defeated by new faces of BJP in this assembly election. The most powerful minister of the Tarun Gogoi cabinet, Sarat Barkotoki, was defeated by a new face of BJP, Tapan Gogoi, at Sonari constituency. The former AASU leader Tapan had joined the party last year. Another former minister and senior leader of the party, Pradyut Bordoloi, was defeated by BJP candidate Bhaskar Sharma at Margherita constituency. Interestingly Paresh Barua led ULFA had appealed the people of that particular constituency not to vote for him, as according to ULFA, he was involved in secret killings. Former Education Minister Gautam Bora was defeated at Batodroba constituency by a new face from BJP, Angoorlata Deka. Culture Minister Bismita Gogoi was defeated at Khumtai constituency by another new face Mrinal Saikia. Other bigwigs also bit the dust.

Another interesting aspect was the defeat of Paban Singh Ghatowar, the president of Shah Majdur Union. Paban Singh Ghatowar was a two-time central minister, who was once treated as the fortune maker of the tea tribes in Assam. In this election, the Congress Party had given tickets to eleven candidates of the tea tribe community, while on the other hand only two tickets were allotted by BJP to this particular tribe. As a result, BJP won one seat while the Congress win was restricted to only three seats. The “Ali-Kuli” social engineering of Muslims and Tea Tribes, which used to propel Congress in this region, fell apart this time. Turns out, they took it granted way too long. APCC spokesperson Ramen Borthakur says, “There was a mistake in the selection of our candidates. Our party had given preference to the caste and creed of the candidates, ignoring their winnability in the process.”

The former Congress MP, Kirip Chaliha, who had left the party before the assembly elections, said, “Dynasty politics has brought this misfortune for the Congress Party. Congress Party always maintains this High Command culture, because of which nobody dares to protest. When I was in the party, I always protested. Consequently, I was compelled to leave the party. For example I want to mention here a few names. Moran constituency was represented by JibantaraGhatowarin in the last assembly, and this time the party had given candidature to her husband Paban Singh Ghatowar. Digboi constituency was represented by Rameswar Dhanuwar, while this time his son Gautam Dhanuwar got the ticket. APCC President Anjan Dutta’s constituency Amguri was inherited by his daughter Ankita Dutta. On the other hand, the present MP of Silchar parliamentary constituency, Susmita Dev, had her mother Bithika Dev declared as the candidate from Silchar assembly constituency. Interestingly, both of them represent former central minister Santosh Mohan Dev’s dynasty in the Barak Valley.”

But there's more. A powerful minister of the Tarun Gogoi government, Gautam Roy, who was also known as the “King of Barak” had given the candidature to his son Rahul Roy from Algapur, which was earlier represented by his wife Mandira Roy in the 2011 assembly election. Meanwhile, the Gohpur constituency was represented by Monika Bora, wife of the present Rajya Sabha MP Ripun Bora; and the Dhakuwakhana constituency by Bharat Narah, whose wife Rani Narah is the present MP of Rajya Sabha. There are at least half a dozen such examples. Congress went on to lose all these seats.

Meanwhile, former minister HimantaBiswa Sharma, who left the Congress party in the month of July last year, always used to mention that only “blue blood” people can serve in this party. Himanta Biswa Sharma who played a major role in the BJP's election campaign was appointed as the election convener of the party; reportedly, he attended 257 meetings at 126 constituencies of the state this time. Himanta treated this election as the “Last battle of Saraighat"; his perspective was able to earn a massive victory for the party. After the declaration of the result, Himanta Biswa Sharma said, “The people have voted for change. They have good faith in the dynamic leadership of Narendra Modi Ji and Amit Shah Ji. Now, we must concentrate on our new responsibilities, because people have not voted for a static Assam.”

The former Chief Minister and AGP leader Prafulla Mahanta says, “The people of Assam wanted change. People have proved it clearly that money power and muscle power are not essential criteria to win the hearts of the common man. I was sure before the result that a non-Congress government would come to power because people have been desiring change since 2006.The four party alliance worked at last and I am hopeful that this government will be able to fulfil the dreams and demands of the people of Assam.”

AGP was away from power for the last 15 years and but for its alliance with BJP, it would have faced a complete rout. But the result changed that. Most of the MLAs from the 1985 batch have got elected to the assembly again. Most prominent among them are Chandra Mohan Patuwary, Prafulla Mahanta, Prabindra Deka, Atul Bora, Pradip Hazarika, Utpal Dutta Phani Bhushan Choudhury, Brindaban Goswami and Ramendra Narayan Kalita. Addressing a press conference, the AGP president Atul Bora, who also got elected from the Bokakhat constituency, said, “After 15 years, we will be a part of the government with the help of this alliance. This result has proved it again that the people of Assam still now keep faith in regionalism. We were criticized when we decided to go with BJP, but it has helped our party as well as our party workers.”

On the other hand, AIUDF supremo Badaruddin Ajmal lost in his bastion of South Salmara constituency. He had proclaimed himself as “The Kingmaker” and had said from the very beginning that no party could form the government without the help of AIUDF. While his party got reduced to 13 seats from the previous 18, he himself has lost the election and the justification to make such grandiose claims in a stunning way.

“BJP and its four party alliance has come to power only because of Congress. The Congress Party has made this historical blunder for which history will never forgive them. After repeated attempts to form an alliance with the Congress Party, we gave up on it. If we had had fought together, it was sure and certain that our alliance would have been able to form the government,” a visibly distraught Ajmal said. It is important to mention here that in more than 25 seats, there was a neck to neck contest between AIUDF and Congress candidates, and ti was apparently only because of this close fight that the BJP candidates managed to scrape through.

Commenting on the verdict, noted journalist Haidar Hussain says, “BJP and its alliance partners were able to achieve this massive victory only because of the anti–incumbency factor. The people of Assam have been searching for an alternative since 2011, because they were tired of hearing about ‘Syndicate Raj.’ But they had no alternative. Moreover, Congress leaders never realized that AIUDF could be a factor in the Upper Assam area as well. They have been treating Tea Garden Tribes and minorities as their guaranteed vote bank. This was the formula of the 1960s. Both these communities have young and literate voters now. They know their bargaining power.”

As Hussain says, young voters' participation impacted the result. The young voters chose Sarbananda Sonowal as their next CM, as Congress had given candidature to a slew of aged people like Sarat Borkotoki, Prithvi Majhi, Tanka Bahadur Rai and Paban Singh Ghatowar. BJP, a new party in Assam polity, has mostly new faces.

RSS also played an important role in this election. It was able to create an undercurrent supporting BJP. It also carried a message to the grassroots level that if people voted for Congress, then Badaruddin Ajmal would become the Deputy Chief Minister. This communal message found many takers in Assam.

Sarbananda Sonowal, the leader of BJP, said, “We are thankful to the people of Assam for their immense support and faith in us. At first, we will concentrate on the implementation of our vision document. Our four party alliance will sit together and will discuss about our common minimum program. All round development will be our main motto. We will try to incorporate the suggestions of all sections of the society.”

The people of Assam wholeheartedly awaited a change. Although fifteen years of Congress rule had brought development, employment, resolution of militancy problem, its third tenure was marred by corruption. BJP has managed to gain a foothold in the state on the shoulders of the alliance; how much will it gain from this is left to be seen.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017