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Lok Sabha polls 2014: Congress' litmus test in Upper Assam

Monday, 7 April 2014 - 6:42pm IST | Agency: dna

  • Assam-CM-Tarun-Gogoi-votes Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi (right) and his wife Dolly (left) after casting their votes in Jorhat on April 7, 2014, in the first phase of the Lok Sabha elections. AFP

The battle of ballots has begun in Assam with five of the 14 parliamentary constituencies hitting the polls on Monday. The other two phases of general elections in Assam will be held on April 12 and 24.

Polling is being held in five parliamentary constituencies in upper Assam including Kaliabor, Lakimpur, Jorhat, Tezpur and Dibrugarh.

The battle this time around is colourful like never before, with a few heavyweight politicians pitted against each other. Massive campaigning continued in the last few days. The polls will decide the fates of 51 candidates.

Elections are being held in the Congress stronghold and the mandate of the electorate will be very crucial for the fate of the party, since Congress is expected to do well in Assam, bucking national trends.

In Dibrugarh constituency Congress heavy weight and Union DoNER Minister Pawan Singh Ghatowar has a tough challenge to save his seat from the BJP’s Rameshwar Teli. Both are tea-tribe leaders, one of the major vote banks of the Congress. The Congress has so far not fulfilled the major political demands of the tea community – the scheduled tribe status, coupled with poor working conditions. Anti incumbency is bound to set in.

In Jorhat, veteran Congress politician and former Union minister Bijoy Krishna Handique is up against a promising tea tribe leader of the BJP, Kamakhya Prasad Tasha. Tasha was previously with the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP). The tea community is again the deciding factor in Jorhat, and Tasha, who is popular, might give Handique a good run for his money.

In Kaliabor constituency, the Congress has fielded Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s son Gaurav Gogoi. What Amethi is to the Gandhis, Kaliabor is to the Gogois, but even in Kaliabor which has areas of Jorhat, Golaghta and Nagaon districts and a mixed population, the tea tribes are a huge factor. All this while they have voted for the Congress, and if they repeat their habit, Gaurav will make it to the parliament.

Tezpur is the only seat of the five in Assam that went to polls on Monday where the AGP has won in the last general elections in 2009. The AGP’s Joseph Toppo , with a dilapidated party, has a clear task at hand to save his seat from Congress AICC secretary Bhupen Bora. Tezpur also has a sizeable number of tea tribe voters who might decide the fate of Toppo.

The battle royale is in Lakhimpur, on the northern banks of the River Brahmaputra. BJP state President Sarbananda Sonowal is contesting Union minister and Congress heavyweight Ranee Narah, wife of former state transport minister Brahat Narah. Although Sarbananda is not from Lakhimpur, he has mass appeal in Assam; he was with the powerful All Assam Students ’ Union (AASU), a former MP from Dibrugarh and also a former general secretary of the AGP.  There is anti incumbency against the Narahs in Lakhimpur. 

Lakhimpur had also been the hotbed for the half-a-decade-long anti-big dam movement against the proposed mega dams in Arunachal Pradesh. The peasants of Lakhimpur fear the adverse impacts of the dams. The tribal communities – Mishings, Deuris and Sonowal Kacharis might switch loyalties towards the BJP.

Thus, all the five seats that went to polls in Assam on Monday are crucial for both the Congress and the BJP. The AGP and the minority dominated AIUDF has given candidates in almost all of these seats and would cut into both BJP and Congress votes.

But the fate will be decided by the most down trodden – the tea tribes and the tribals.

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