People in five constituencies of Assam voted on April 11 and the rest of the nine constituencies will go to polls on April 18 (5 seats) and April 23 (4 seats). While both big national parties, Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)- which is ruling both in the state and the centre- are in the fray, regional parties are also in contention, especially the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) and Bodoland People's front (BPF) in the coming phases.
The AGP had recently broken its ties with the BJP as its coalition partner over the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) 2016 issue, but it has come back to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) fold again, while the AIUDF has claimed it has a pre-poll tie-up with the Congress in the state, and BPF is already a coalition partner with the BJP in the state, which has fielded its strongest candidate Pramila Rani Brahma in Kokrajhar constituency. The BPF has a background of militancy and racial and communal massacres, as well as an ongoing demand for a Bodoland separate state. So, almost all regional parties have tied up with either Congress or BJP, which makes it a proxy fight between the two.
The ruling party had won 7 seats in 2014 parliamentary polls, riding on the Modi wave. Interestingly, it has re-nominated only two of its candidates in Assam, and put new faces in the fray in rest of the five constituencies it had won in 2014 polls.
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The five constituencies that are going to polls on April 18 are Mangaldoi, Nowgong, the Autonomous District, Silchar and Karimganj. While both Nowgong and Mangaldoi have mixed population of both Assamese and Bengali-speaking Hindus and Muslims, as well as a sizeable tribal population, the Autonomous District, popularly known as Diphu constituency, is populated by a number of tribes and comprises the only two hill districts, Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao.
Bengali Land Barak Valley
The other two constituencies — Silchar and Karimganj — are the most communally polarised seats in Assam's Barak Valley with majority Bengali population — both Hindu and Muslims. Here, the BJP has fielded Kripanath Mallah, the deputy speaker of the state assembly, while in Silchar, BJP Spokesperson Dr. Rajdeep Roy is contesting on the party ticket. Roy has an intense battle against Susmita Dev, who is not only the president of All India Mahila Congress, the women's wing of the Congress, but also the daughter of Congress stalwart late Santosh Mohan Dev. Dev has a clear edge over BJP's Roy not simply as the incumbent MP but also as she has the legacy of being a fourth-generation Congress member. While BJP's Roy is facing infighting over his candidature and has little touch with the commoners, Susmita is seen putting rigorous efforts. Moreover, Congress President Rahul Gandhi addressed a rally in Silchar in Assam on April 9 in her favour, while Priyanka Gandhi also held a road show on April 14, which was her first rally out of Uttar Pradesh and witnessed thousands of people. On asking whether Priyanka's massive rally will help her win, Dev quickly said, "Only voters can say anything about that." She, however, was seen hushing out a few physically challenged poor out of her office at Tarapur of Silchar, who told this reporter that they had been waiting for over three hours for some doles. If she maintains this attitude, the voting pattern may alter, as Silchar is also a strong BJP bastion, with its sitting MLA Dilip Kumar Paul and State Excise and Fisheries Minister Parimal Suklabaidya.
In the Karimganj seat, which is a Muslim-majority constituency, the wave appears to be in favour of AIUDF candidate Radheshyam Biswas, with BJP's Assam State Assembly Deputy Speaker Kripanath Mallah trailing at the second position so far, despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi's rally twice in the valley in January 4 and April 11, and Assam BJP stalwart Himanta Biswas Sarma's continuous road shows.
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AIUDF chief Badruddin Ajmal, while campaigning for Biswas in Assam’s Hailakandi district, told this reporter, "We fielded only three candidates in Assam because we do not want the BJP to win a single seat owing to any of our mistake anywhere in India. We had fought in 7 or 8 constituencies before. We have seen that last time, Narendra Modi won with only 31% votes, the remaining parties got 69% votes. So this time we have made a calculated decision to take only three seats, leaving 11 seats for Congress so that the parties which gained 69% can win. In the last general elections, we won the Karimganj seat with a margin of around 1 lakh votes. This time we think we will win with a margin of more than 2 and a half lakh votes." Incidentally, the AIUDF has fielded three candidates, in Dhubri where Ajmal himself is so far leading, in Barpeta, where the fight is between Congress and AIUDF, and in Karimganj.
The Hills Have Eyes
In the Diphu constituency, while incumbent MP Biren Singh Engti is fighting anti-incumbency factor as he has reportedly done little for the constituency faced with serious issues, such as lack of proper drinking water, bad roads or connectivity issue, and healthcare. Even though Engti has the support of Karbi Students' Association (KSA), and 16 other organisations, he is still reportedly trailing behind BJP's Horensingh Bay. Interestingly, half of the constituency falls under the Dima Hasao district, where the BJP swept the Autonomous Hills Council polls in January 2019, winning 19 seats in a 28-member council. So, the fight is real fierce in the Diphu Constituency.
Who is Winning?
So far, in the second phase of Lok Sabha polls, Congress is likely to win the Silchar and Nowgong seat, AIUDF the Karimganj seat, and BJP, the Mangaldoi seat- simply because of polarisation- as the BJP has fielded its Assam Unit General Secretary Dilip Saikia. Noted Assamese intellectual-journalist Haider Hussain, whose ancestral home falls in Nalbari, one of the legislative assembly constituencies of the Mangaldoi seat, said, "Bodoland Territorial Council chief Hagrama Mohilary is campaigning for the BJP in Mangaldoi, and so most of the Hindu voters will vote for BJP. Although Christians were likely to vote for the Congress, but this time they may not. Udalguri voters will go for BJP, Paneri voters too, while Mangaldoi, Dalgaon and Kalaigaon, which has about 35% Muslim votes, may go for Congress. Sipajhar also has 35% Muslims. In the rest — Kamalpur, Rangiya and Nalbari, the BJP will be leading. The CAB issue is not going to work anymore, everyone is talking about the surgical strike."
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Talking about the scene in Nowgong, a local leader Badrul Khan gave a clear mandate in favour of Congress candidate Pradyut Bordoloi.
"In the 2014 polls, the Modi wave was much stronger than this time, while there was an AIUDF candidate Aditya Langthasa too, in the fray. The AIUDF candidate got 3,14,012 votes, the Congress candidate got 3,50,587 votes, while Rajen Gohain won with 4,94,146 votes. So it was a three-pronged contest, which is two-pronged now. So if the AIUDF votes, which are Muslim votes, turn out to be in favour of the Congress, it is going to be Pradyut Bordoloi who may win."
Nellie people are also going to support the Congress, while Jagiroad's paper mill closure may have a major impact on the polls, going against the BJP.
The results will be out on May 23. Until then, there can only speculations, yet the guesses for the second round of polls in Assam says — both Congress and BJP may win at least 2 seats each, while AIUDF may win 1 seat.