Electoral politics in our country is fascinating, and it seldom disappoints when it comes to highlighting the various complexities of our polity. With the first phase of the Assam elections barely a few days away, all the parties have intensified their campaign across the state. Though this election is being perceived as a bipolar contest between the Congress-led Mahajot and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, the entry of two new indigenous parties – the Axom Jatiya Parishad and the Raijor Dal, has given it an interesting twist. This has made the fight more complex in many constituencies, making it a nightmare for any psephologist to make predictions. The Naoboicha constituency in the Lakhimpur district is a classic example of such contradictory complexities in this election.
This constituency has had many legends of its own in the past. From being represented by legendary musician Bhupen Hazarika between 1967-1972 to often giving chances to Independent candidates (as many as five times since independence). Naoboicha has been bucking the popular trend in the rest of the state in every election. The last state election in 2016 was no exception where the BJP-led NDA swept Upper Assam and won most of the seats in the Lakhimpur district, barring the lone constituency of Naoboicha. Instead, Mamun Imdadul Haque Choudhury of AIUDF won the seat by a narrow margin of 1233 votes. The runner up in the seat was BJP’s veteran leader, Rao Gajendra Singh.
Come 2021, and the electoral dynamics in the constituency has changed completely. As a part of the alliance, Naoboicha has been allocated to Congress despite having a sitting AIUDF MLA. With this came the surprise announcement of Congress fielding it’s five-time MLA from the nearby Dhakuakhana constituency to fight this election. On paper, the alliance is unbeatable since the combined vote share of the INC and the AIUDF in 2016 was around 55.38%, while that of BJP and AGP combined stood at 38.72%. Even during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, UPA was leading from this assembly segment in Lakhimpur with a 53.91% vote share as against NDA’s 42.9%. This recent data makes Naoboicha a sure shot seat for the Mahajot until a slew of recent developments resulted in the game being split wide open.
The absence of the sitting AIUDF MLA not taking part and the candidature of Bharat Narah came as music to the ears of NDA, who felt the time is ripe to snatch the seat from the UPA. This is because Narah is considered an outsider in the constituency who left his traditional seat of Dhakuakhana to fight the elections from here. Although his wife, senior Congress leader, Ranee Narah has been a two time MP from Lakhimpur, many now consider them a liability in the absence of their ability to win elections. Party insiders reveal that the husband-wife duo threatened to quit and join the BJP if denied a ticket. Ranee currently is a Rajya Sabha MP, and her term ends next year. The BJP also anticipated a rebellion by Chowdhury on being denied a ticket by AIUDF and giving the seat to Congress. However, that did not happen.
Interestingly, NDA got a shot in the arm when the candidature of Azizur Rahman was announced on a Raijor Dal ticket. A former All Assam Minority Students Union (AAMSU) Advisor, Rahman is considered to be largely influential in the region and is expected to eat away substantial minority votes of the alliance. This made NDA’s bid to win this seat seem more probable this time until it discovered a rebellion in its backyard. As BJP decided to give this seat to AGP and announced the candidature of Jayanta Khaund, who lost his deposit in the 2016 elections; its veteran leader, Rao Gajendra Singh rebelled and filed his nomination as an Independent. This is largely expected to result in a split of the NDA vote share.
For the large part of its existence, Naoboicha has mostly elected either a Gorkha or a Muslim candidate barring 1967, 1972, 1985 and 1988. This is because Gorkhas & Muslims form a large chunk of the population in this seat. The other important communities include the Misings and Adivasis apart from a sizable number of Assamese Hindus. The Gorkha vote since past many elections has been largely divided between BJP’s Rao Gajendra Singh and INC’s Sanjay Raj Subba. This time around with only Rao in the fray, he’s expected to corner a sizable chunk of Gorkha votes away from both BJP & INC. Add to this the candidature of Dilip Saikia from NCP who’s also expected to cut into AGP’s vote bank of Assamese Hindus.
On the other hand, the Muslim votes will now get divided between Mahajot’s Bharat Narah and Raijor Dal’s Azizur Rehman. While the Raijor Dal will also attract substantial Assamese Hindu voters who are supporting the two indigenous parties, the other being Axom Jatiya Parishad. Amidst these permutations and combinations, the role of the other two significant communities – the Misings and Adivasis become crucial. Narah is from the Mising community and is relying heavily on their support. He has also promised the establishment of Autonomous Councils for Gorkhas and Adivasis, which is gaining traction in these communities. With a substantial voter base of Muslims, and the support of a section of Gorkhas, Misings and Adivasis, Narah is comparatively better placed than his contemporaries.
Come May 2, the results of Naoboicha will be one of the most anticipated and a great case study to understand which way the various communities vote and whom ultimately these complex contradictions help in winning the seat. In a high stakes election for both the leading alliances as well as the indigenous parties, the intensity of the fight for every seat has gained significance. Hence, it’ll be interesting to see whether Naoboicha bucks the trend once again and throws up a surprise or decides to side with the overall winner in the state this time.
The author is the Chief Executive Officer of Little Monk Communications, a digital marketing agency managing social media strategies of a host of Bollywood personalities, leading movie studios, films and brands.