Tag Archives: Asom Gana Parishad

2014 General Elections – Dibrugarh


Till 2004 Dibrugarh was one of the 4 constituencies in the entire country that never ever fell to a non Congress party. Then came the firebrand AASU leader Sarbanada Sonowal contesting on an AGP ticket who brought an end to the endless Congress victory. In 2004 Kamakhya Prasad Tasa from BJP came second with congress stalwart Paban Singh Ghatowar finishing third. Back in 2009 when AGP and BJP combined, Sarbananda finished behind Paban Singh Ghatowar in the ultimate race. Two different equation, different results. This time around the equation is even more tweaked; Sarbanada Sonowal is now the State BJP president and will most likely contest from Dibrugarh on a BJP ticket and has Kamakhya Prasad Tasa as a close aide helping him form a base around the tea tribe community which till now had been Paban Singh Ghatowar’s pocket votes.

Slides
The story of Dibrugarh in win-loss for the last 3 elections has been such:

Name of Constituency 2006 Assembly elections 2009 General Elections 2011 Assembly Elections

Moran

INC

INC

INC

Dibrugarh

BJP

AGP-BJP

BJP

Lahowal

INC

INC

INC

Duliajan

BJP

INC

INC

Tingkhong

AGP

INC

INC

Naharkatia

INC

AGP-BJP

INC

Tinisukia

INC

INC

INC

Digboi

INC

INC

INC

Margherita

INC

INC

INC

Although Congress won 8 of the 9 constituency seats in 2011 assembly elections yet 2014 will be a close contest. 3 years have passed on. Anti incumbency will run on the forefront in the Dibrugarh constituency being the home constituency of the BJP state supremo. Prashanta Phukan, the current MLA of Dibrugarh has been highly successful in motivating the urban population of Dibrugarh district against the rising issues faced during the years of Congress rule namely inflation, corruption, mis governance and the list goes on. In addition the BJP has to its advantage in the coming elections the Narendra Modi card which is expected to play well among the Hindi speaking population of Tinisukia and its adjoining areas. In Assam, Dibrugarh would be the constituency in second position when it comes to a count of urban voters. As the nation senses a strong wave among the middle class urban voters in favor of Narendra Modi, the effect might actually change the voting patterns in Dibrugarh, Duliajan, Tinisukia & Digboi areas. The tea garden belt and the Nepali speakers still remain as a reason of deep concern for the BJP and its star candidate Sarbanada Sonowal.

What Congress has as a major strong point is the presence of an extreme loyal voter base in the pockets of Dibrugarh. Even during the worst days of the Assam Agitation 5 of the 9 assembly constituencies that comes under Dibrugarh LS constituency fell to the INC. The loyal base comprises of the tea garden belt, the Nepali-Hindi speaking population. The Assamese population of the area mostly comprising of the Ahoms, Moran, Mataks and caste Hindus have surprisingly rallied behind the Congress for long. The INC ideology or call it freedom struggle nostalgia runs deep even among the mainstream population in these parts of Assam. BJP will have to target the section of first time voters among the Assamese mainstream, that is where its kill will lie. The INC has always enjoyed this position at Kaliabor, Jorhat and Dibrugarh. Moreover with a central cabinet minister position being given to Paban Singh Ghatowar, he has been able to implement a couple of schemes and projects in the areas. Not the best an MP can do, but still something for the people to see. From a stalwart student leader representing the tea tribes till national politics Paban Singh Ghatowar has been a heart throb of his people. Chances that BJP with a development agenda will be able to slash a few thousand votes from here are still difficult to imagine. Kamakhya Prasad Tasa does have a good rapport among the tea tribes, but will those votes turn back in favor of Sarbanada Sonowal is uncertain. They have to work very hard for this.
Cadre strength is one of the important variables when it comes to the question of winnability of a given candidate. With a long lying AASU career track behind and being seen as a person able to scrap the IMDT act, Mr Sonowal is still well respected and looked up to in the regionalist circles even after he joined the national party. It will be a test for him to motivate the entire cadre base of anti-congress voters in favor of BJP which till date hasn’t been so easy for BJP in Assam. The INC can boast of an extremely strong cadre base in Upper Assam. Yuva Congress, Mahila Congress, NSUI etc will romp in with all their strength in 2014, might even resort to anything under the sun. To beat such kind of a force, all that people considers Sarbanada Sonowal’s ability, his oratory, hard work, motivating capacity will come to test.

A recent positive development for the BJP is the inroad it has made into the Sonowal Kachari Autonomous Council. Obviously Sarbananda Sonowal himself being a Sonowal Kachari has helped them in the process and provided this continues till 2014, a certain number of votes from the plains tribes will shift from Congress to BJP. The other question that seems to be instrumental in the coming election is the question of ST status to Maran, Matak & Adivasis. The congress has not come out clearly on this where as time and again the BJP has voiced for the protection of the indigenous. This but is a far stretch, if a clear one line message comes from the BJP as an election promise in favor of the ST status then it will definitely change fortunes for Sarbananda Sonowal.

The AIUDF & AGP is far behind in the race for Dibrugarh. Although AGP won in 2004 it was more a victory of Sarbananda Sonowal. So the race for Dibrugarh is a clear BJP vs Congress battle. The margin in 2009 elections was 35,143 votes. In a general election that can be considered a small margin. Will Sarbanada Sonowal and BJP be able to bring down that difference in their favor remains a question? AGP cutting down on BJP votes is surprisingly not so much of an issue of concern as when it comes to Dibrugarh it is difficult to think of anyone other than Sarbananda whom AGP could have had projected strongly. Also the wave is such that in 2014 anti Congress votes are getting routed to BJP. The recent performance in GMC elections, Sonowal Kachari Autonomous Council elections of the BJP makes me believe that they are serious about Assam. Although I predict a neck to neck fight I will put my money on Sarbananda Sonowal over Paban Singh Ghatowar.

AGP and BJP should take Guwahati Municipality Elections seriously


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The BJP has never been in power in Assam and the AGP has been out of it for the past 12 years. Political parties cannot assume themselves to be defacto alternative to an existing party in power. Governments don’t shift just by fate. Opposition parties have to concentrate on being a formidable force within and beyond the assembly or parliament. They have to be able in molding and representing the public voice against the current government. In short they have to remain connected to the electorate.

1422524A party has got few ways in which they can stay connected to the people. One is to have a strong cadre base and work on their respective ideology for maximum of the 365 days that constitute a year. Both AGP and the BJP don’t enjoy such a position in the state of Assam. The BJP has been out of power in centre for 9 years, but by portraying the development made in Gujarat, Bihar, and Chhattisgarh etc it is trying to gain mileage and keep their chances alive at the centre for 2014. Similarly, given that our country has multiple layers of governance, one another way of staying connected is to be part of local governments and perform well in them. This will help the parties run a campaign by setting this local governance as an example. Even this is not a position that either the AGP or BJP enjoys in Assam. Almost all local bodies, autonomous councils, Zila Parishads belong to the Indian National Congress. The ruling party has made a comfortable position across all layers of governments barring a few in which the major opposition is AIUDF.

Outside the world of representatives in the public sphere as well we see that the regional party is much under-represented today since yester years. The All Assam Students Union which was the mother organization of AGP is a distinct entity working towards regionalism and having no terms with the party on paper. Due to a series of successive losses the moral of the loyal supporters are also down. They might surely go and vote for the party but the zeal and enthusiasm is not visible. The BJP on the other hand has been growing at some pace but yet it has not reached a level where its chances look good. Moreover some hardcore ideologies of the BJP might play as political gimmicks in rest of India, but in Assam swaying voters on issues of hindutva is difficult. At times the lone resort of the AGP and BJP which comes as the issue of illegal immigration has been thrown so many times in the political centre stage that it has almost lost its charm now.

Finally although the BJP doesn’t have to face this but the AGP is surely blamed for being a defunct government for whatever reasons it might be. In the political blame game whenever the party raises an issue it is cross questioned on its initiative during its 10 years in power. So from all of this we see that the regional party and the national party have to both start almost from level zero. General elections are just a few months away and the state elections are due in 2016. At this juncture the Guwahati Municipal Elections come as a great opportunity for these parties to reverse the trend back to positives for itself. AGP has declared candidature for all 31 wards and 90 area representatives and the BJP is equally likely to do the same. Both parties are going ahead without a pre-poll alliance. Many political thinkers would welcome this and many would think otherwise.

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Flash flood during recent rains in Guwahati

But why do I think that both these parties need to take this seriously? Firstly, an important thing to note here is that in recent times the city of Guwahati has faced many civic issues; water-logging, landslide, solid waste management etc. There were spurts of anger and demonstration against the local MLA’s. Anti-incumbency as a factor against the congress is certainly a visible phenomenon. Secondly it will be easier for both the parties to convince people to give them a chance to represent them in GMC because the potential risk that people might perceive from voting these parties in MLA or MP election is much less in a local municipal election. Thirdly it is an easy election to manage compared even to panchayat etc where the scale is larger. Moreover as a substantial portion of the electorate is urban the parties can expect less manipulation and more rational voting. Lastly a finally let us look at a few stats from 2011 Assam assembly election:

Name of Constituency

Congress (%) AGP (%) BJP (%) AGP + BJP

Jalukbari

72.09

11.44 12.61

24.05

Dispur

41.48

37.37 14.51

51.88

Guwahati East

37.44

34.30 23.25

57.55

Guwahati West 34.50 22.45 27.31

49.76

                                                                                   *Data from Election Commission of India

In politics one plus one is never equal to two but the stats clearly shows that there is a sizeable percentage of anti congress vote. It will still remain a test for both these parties to avoid eating into each other’s votes thereby making way for congress to slip through. But given that these elections are more localized the probability that results might be more favorable to these parties if decent strategies are applied exists.

The chances for AGP and BJP might seem better compared to its chances in other elections when seen from results perspective. But still the reason both these parties needs to put all their might behind these elections is also at a consequential level. It is a golden opportunity for them to set a good foothold in the most major urban centre for the state. Given more elections are lined up in future, a good performance in this elections will certainly enhance their future chances if they fare well in their work of running the GMC. 10-12 years is a long period in politics, for these many number of years lot of things might have changed within these parties. AGP is not anymore a party of novice politicians; BJP has a new state President and has come a little away from its hard line stances. But both parties have yet not received a platform in which they can rectify their past errors or portray a new identity. This is one such opportunity. Lastly but more importantly, a substantial portion of the loyal supporters and cadres of the regional party or BJP after being de-motivated with 2011 results are lying silently and helplessly across the state. A good show will usher in faith in their minds to work more for the parties in upcoming elections. Even if they don’t gain majority but manage to win a sizeable number of wards all the given benefits will stand and also they will get a chance to come closer to the electorate and stay connected.

The AGP has been out of power since 12 years and the BJP has never had a taste of it in Assam. Parties like Shiv Sena in Maharastra have been out of power for a greater number of years. But the BMC has been won by the Sena on most occasions. They are still a reckoning force in Maharashtra state politics. It is because of their strong cadre base and at the same time because their activity is visible in some layers of governance. A good civic body is a minimum basic need that comes as more primary than any other government body. Making a strong point there will prove a lot of things and that is why AGP & BJP must take Guwahati Municipal Elections seriously.