Rahul Gandhi, Digvijay Singh and other congress leaders might want to visit Assam once in a while to regain confidence, relax, feel that there is still some corner left in the country where they can roar like lions and feel like kings. Amongst the arranged army of youth congress, NSUI, mahila congress, x congress & y congress members they also feel a bit secure. Although the people of Assam has no choice but to absorb the stupidity of the Rahuls and Digvijays but 2014 seems set to break the trend. Following that it will be 2 interesting years till 2016.
One can only agree to the fact that the INC since 2001 has only been moving deeper and deeper into the voter bank of Assam. They have miraculously been able to build a strong cadre base of congress supporters in an otherwise regionalism flavored arena. The vigorous inroads made by the Congress has affected society at many nodes and joints. In my recent visits to a few villages of Assam, I witnessed few growing trends; Members of the party being the new aristocrats of the village, crony leaders in each possible circle (his/her maximum credentials being that of a youth/mahila congress ward committee president/secretary) & most painstakingly villages getting divided on party lines after the panchayat elections. Nowhere did I see politics empowering the last person of the democracy, but politics dirtying the last possible emblems of society. It was saddening. I saw young unemployed boys in motorbikes with attitudes of British lords having interest only in knowing which government contract will yield what margin as commission/corruption/collection or whatever you wish to call it. What was interesting a to some degree comforting to note were signs of a tipping point arriving in the near future.
Voices against the congress tactics of misleading public and particularly youths by showering nothing else but crispy notes were very much there in the air. To quote one man here, “the recent youth congress elections seemed larger than any state or national elections; it will decide who will get what syndicates, it is mockery in the name of inner party democracy”. One afternoon while walking to the marketplace of our ancestral village I met a group of school teachers interacting amongst themselves, and I who can hardly stop from joining any “leksar” (Assamese colloquial pronunciation for lecture) joined the ones double my age. It was one of those pleasant afternoons of October in Assam when you don’t wish to move away from the sun, and a few words from that discussion by one gentleman was hinting me that the tipping point is somewhere there. “.. we know that communalism is bad, but we don’t fear BJP of communalism, we fear Congress of being anti-secular. In 2 of our neighboring districts of Baksa and Chirang we very well know who was playing the communal card and also realize that the congress can go to any extent to appease them… In Barpeta we are already a minority, if BJP doesn’t comes to power we will be shield less… ”. He made it sound simple. Ground level insecurity, anti-incumbency and burning decide the tilt of votes and not studio discussions of left and right. He was clear that BJP could do no more harm to the society of Assam than what Congress and AIUDF had already done. So it was better to have that party that would bring development rather than the ones which have left a bitter taste behind. His logic to me seemed sound. We in our coffee tables call it pseudo-secularism, polarism and favorism of Congress in our jargon. Qualitatively things seemed a little against the congress, but what works are the quantitative figures. Who won what ? Who won how many ?
In 2009 the Congress won 7 seats, the BJP won 4 & the AGP, BPF & AIUDF shared one each in the LS general elections. Since then till now a lot of water has flown by, with an extremely weakened AGP and split in traditional Congress votes things have slowly shifted in towards the BJP. Although a high profile drama just got ended but split within congress is still visible on many occasions and fresh in people’s minds. More importantly for the people of Assam the 2014 elections is a penultimate mandate before the future of the state is decided in 2016. With signs of BJP coming to power in the centre becoming distinctly visible many people have decided or will decide to give BJP a chance. With that if the mandate 2014 is even slightly tilted against the congress I will call 2014 the tipping point. From there on a hardworking BJP & emotionally driven AGP combination or BJP alone will show strong signs of being an alternative. With BPF & Gana Shakti cutting away tribal votes, the AIUDF cutting away the Muslim vote bank of Congress, and BJP making inroads into the urban voters and tea gardens of Assam anything will seem possible in 2016 unlike the previous 2 elections where no choice other than congress looked visible.
Coming to a case by case analysis of all 14 constituencies of Assam, one can surely sense that Dhubri will go to AIUDF. Kaliabor, Autonomous Hills District & Tezpur seems set for Congress. With old congress stalwart Ripun Bora returning into picture and Joseph Toppo under performing in his previous term over and above local leader Padma Hazarika’s rift with central leaders Tezpur is almost out of hands of the AGP. While Nagaon and Silchar seems too good a bet for BJP and Kokrajhar for BPF , the remaining 7 is where tough contest looks likely. In Karimganj it is the AIUDF and the Congress that will battle it out for the seat, Jorhat and Dibrugarh likewise seems to be a tough fight between the BJP and Congress. In Lakhimpur, anti incumbency against Rani Narah is appearing from the surface but a lot depends on the candidates the opposition pits against her. Nail biting finishes are set to occur in Guwahati, Barpeta and Mangaldai. With equal probability to all scenarios the ending figure will come close to AIUDF (2-3), BJP (3-5), BPF (1), AGP (0-2) & INC (4-6). Qualitatively rise of AIUDF & fall of Congress with marginal rise of BJP seems evident. Although circles would want to dismiss a Modi wave, but it is certainly there as I felt across various regions of Assam. In addition, the new face of BJP in Assam through Sarbananda Sonowal and consolidation of urban and change hungry voting base is set to deliver something incremental for the BJP. The biggest worry of the state BJP unit was the absence of a leader people see as their own and wish to see as the CM. That is why traditionally even with power and numbers falling down AGP was placed above BJP in the race to be the people’s choice. With a back broken AGP and ex-AGP MP and ex-AASU leader Sarbananda Sonowal as the BJP state leader, Assam looks all set to make space for the other national party.
If all of this converges in BJP equalizing with Congress in 2014 then the road to 2016 will be much more fiercely fought, much more democratic with choice. More so because as long as AASU wants to play safe being the non-political whistle blower without making their own hands dirty more and more will regionalism loose in terms of political votes. AGP without a youth wing has already become grey. More and more the AASU tries to distance itself from politics trying to win the good share of everything and the bad share of nothing, more and more will the people of Assam distance itself from regionalism. Right wing nationalism might not be the end of the road for Assam, but through that people would want to see the non-congress side of affairs. It is important as well, for with each passing day one liners by Tarun Gogoi are becoming more and more unbearable.
(Begining the series of each constituency has a story. This will be follwed by 14 detailed articles on the 14 Lok Sabha constituencies of Assam. With my limited knowledge of highend affairs I hope to be able to present a close to real picture from ground. Your support and feedback is most welcomed)