It is neck to neck between Congress and BJP in Assam
GUWAHATI: Election fever is on. And promises from the politicians are flying thick and thin in the midst of rain and thunderstorms across Assam. But are the voters of Assam biting into these promises? It is a million dollar question. This 2019 Parliamentary election in Assam has been fairly sedate so far and in the melee of opinions and counter opinions, one aspect is absolutely certain that there is no Modi wave in these elections.
By far, though he remains the biggest crowd puller and front runner to the post of Prime Minister and with BJP trying to cash in on his popularity weaving their election strategy around the central theme of Modi, surprisingly, in many constituencies, local issues will decide the voting pattern - a worrisome factor for BJP. There are a few issues that will hog the limelight this election season in Assam. These issues are: Opposition and support to Constitution Amendment Bill, 2016 (CAB), alleged tacit understanding between Congress and All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), unemployment, floods amongst others. Congress has been using their opposition to CAB as the primary plank of campaign and since the announcement of the NYAY scheme, the party campaigners are trying to impress the rural voters with the benefits of the scheme.
Barring the three constituencies of Barpeta, Karimganj and Dhubri where there will be triangular fights amongst Congress, BJP and AIUDF and thereafter Kokrajhar with multi corner fights, in the 10 Lok Sabha constituencies in rest of Assam, there shall be straight fights between the Congress and the BJP-AGP-BPF alliance. While it is too early to assess the moods of the voters in all 14 constituencies since the election has been staggered into three phases, a fairly clear pattern is emerging in the five constituencies of upper Assam which go to polls on 11th April, 2019.
In Dibruagarh, it seems to be an uphill task for Paban Singh Ghatowar, the Congress candidate against Rameswar Teli, the current MP from this tea garden community seat. Teli, a quiet unassuming politician, has the advantage of the well-oiled BJP election machinery and is firmly in the saddle to continue with his victory March. Ghatowar has been struggling on the tea belt and in the absence of a clear cut Congress strategy to wean away the tea voters from BJP, Teli is the front runner at this moment. Amongst the non tea tribe voters, opposition to CAB by Congress is helping the veteran Congress candidate but it would not be enough to cause an upset. So, G Plus at this point believes that Rameswar Teli is the favourite to win this seat.
At Lakhimpur, a similar scenario emerges albeit in a different demographic backdrop. This constituency is fairly equally dominated by the Scheduled Tribe communities, Ahoms, tea tribes, caste Hindu Assamese and a sizeable number of Gorkha voters. BJP’s stranglehold amongst the tea tribes and STs is near complete and though the Gorkhas are unhappy with the alleged shabby treatment meted out to the lone Gorkha MP of the last parliament, Pradan Baruah of BJP has emerged as the front runner to win this seat. Anil Borgohain of Congress is putting up a spirited fight and the Ahom community seems to be backing him to the hilt. However, Congress’s erosion of faith in the tea tribes will be the primary reason for him lagging behind in this race.
Tezpur as a parliamentary constituency has always been interesting and this will be the first time in the last two decades, Tezpur voters will send a non-Gorkha MP to Delhi. The main fight is between Pallav Lochan Das of BJP and MGVK Bhanu of Congress. BJP state star campaigners are toiling day and night, whether through public rallies or padyatras (foot marches) and given the attention provided by the two main campaigners of BJP, CM Sarbananda Sonowal and FM, Himanta Biswa Sarma in this constituency, it is understandable that BJP has a tough fight on hand here. BJP has been pushed to a corner, which otherwise was a fairly easy seat for the party primarily for two reasons: one, resentment amongst the Gorkhas and two, the seemingly uncivilised statement of the BJP candidate terming the Congress candidate as an old bull not fit to be in the race. This nullified the outsider tag attached to the Congress candidate allowing him back into the game with renewed vigour. Another deciding factor would be which way the Bodo community would vote in Tezpur. Ground reports suggest a division of Bodo votes, which otherwise have overwhelmingly voted in favour of BJP in 2014 and in 2016. The caste Hindu Assamese community, who consider themselves educated and erudite in this constituency is also divided at this moment.
Absence of an AIUDF candidate would ensure the majority of the minority votes for the Congress candidate but will that be enough to make Bhanu smile at the end? G Plus believes that despite the indecisive nature of a sizeable number of voters cutting across all communities in this constituency at this moment, the BJP candidate, Pallav Lochan Das is the front runner to win this seat and this would be made easier due to BJP’s dominance amongst the tea tribe and Adivasi voters.
Now Koliabor – a high profile seat and made more prestigious due to the candidature of two primary candidates – Gaurav Gogoi of Congress, the sitting MP and son of former chief minister of Assam, Tarun Gogoi and Mani Madhav Mahanta of AGP/BJP alliance who is the brother of irrigation minister, Keshab Mahanta. Mr Mahanta is a late entrant into electoral politics and being a greenhorn has not deterred him from putting up a strong fight against a formidable Congress candidate in a constituency considered to be Tarun Gogoi’s family turf. In this constituency, one single factor – absence of an AIUDF candidate has tilted the scale in favour of the Congress candidate and Gaurav Gogoi is likely to romp home with a comfortable margin despite a spirited fight from the AGP candidate and support from its alliance partner, BJP. G Plus believes the Congress shall retain this seat in 2019.
This brings us to the last constituency to go the polls in the first phase on 11th April – Jorhat. It is considered a Congress citadel, represented by Late BK Handique six times in a row till the Congress juggernaut was halted in 2014 by the Modi wave. Locked in a direct contest between Congress and BJP, Topon Gogoi of BJP and current minister in BJP government and Sushanta Borgohain, an ex MLA from Thaowra and ex parliamentary secretary in the erstwhile Congress government in the state, this seat probably will go the wire.
Interestingly, under Jorhat, BJP and Congress have four MLAs each and the rest two are held by AGP and under these circumstances, amongst all Lok Sabha constituencies in Assam, the Congress candidate would have started from an advantageous position in this constituency. But once BJP decided to pitch a current minister and another Ahom, Topon Gogoi against Sushanta Borgohain, the electoral battle scenario changed drastically. This constituency is dominated by three communities - Ahoms with about 4.5 lakh voters are the largest closely followed by caste Hindu Assamese and tea tribes.
BJP has a head start amongst the tea tribe, though unlike in other constituencies, Congress has been able to make inroads into the BJP stronghold making the contest interesting. Opposition to CAB is a major issue amongst the voters of Jorhat and the personal image of the Congress candidate, Sushanta Borgohain has made him a favourite to wrest this seat from BJP. Interestingly, the caste Hindu Assamese voters of this constituency, which otherwise have voted for BJP in the last two central and state elections, seem to be favouring the Congress candidate in these elections and if the Muslim voters numbering about 94,000 vote overwhelmingly for the Congress candidate, the BJP candidate will face an uphill task. The margin of victory or defeat in Jorhat will be probably the lowest in Assam and G Plus believes that the Congress candidate has his nose ahead of the BJP candidate in this prestigious seat.
So, on the basis of this analysis, G Plus would give a 3-2 score to BJP in the first phase.