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BJP, AGP flags
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OPINION

Will BJP’s ‘symbolic’ gesture in Assam’s Kaliabor LS seat work?

BJP has consolidated its base among tea workers in the constituency traditionally held by Cong. But in giving way to its ally AGP, the party stands to lose more than it can gain

Jayanta K Goswami

Jayanta K Goswami

Electioneering has reached its crescendo as the country is all set for a seven-phase Lok Sabha elections scheduled to kick-start from April 11 this year. In the first phase, a total of 91 constituencies across 20 states of the country will go to polls.

This time, Assam will witness a three-phase election process starting from April 11. In the first phase, five Parliamentary constituencies -- Tezpur, Kalibor, Jorhat, Dibrugarh and Lakhimpur -- will decide the fate of its .

Among these five, Kaliabor has been one of the most talked-about constituencies of the state. Traditionally, the constituency located in Nagaon district of the state has been a Congress bastion.

In 2014, the grand old party’s Gaurav Gogoi, son of former Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi, won the seat defeating Mrinal Kumar Saikia of the BJP by 93,874 votes. Gogoi managed to secure 38% of the votes. This time again, the Congress has decided to re-nominate Gogoi from Kaliabor.

The Kaliabor Lok Sabha constituency is comprised of 10 assembly segments, namely Golaghat, Dergaon (SC), Bokakhat, Dhing, Batadroba, Rupohihat, Samaguri, Kaliabor, Sarupathar and Khumtai.

Going by records, both the Congress and the BJP with their ‘allies’ have equal number of MLAs in this Parliamentary seat. According to the 2016 Assembly election results in 10 Assembly segments under Kaliabor Parliamentary seat, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) has three MLAs -- Bhabendra Nath Bharali (Dergaon), Atul Borah (Bokakhat), Keshab Mahanta (Kaliabar); Congress has four MLAs — Ajanta Neog (Golaghat), Nurul Huda (Rupahighat), Rakibul Hissain (Samuguri) and Roselina Saikia (Sarupathar); the BJP has two legislators — Angurlata Deka (Batadraba) and Mrinal Saikia (Khumtai); and AIUDF has one — Aminul Islam (Dhing).

In the 2009 Lok Sabha election, Tarun Gogoi’s brother Dip Gogoi had won the seat for the Congress defeating Asom Gana Parishad’s Gunin Hazarika.

Till 2014, of the 13 Parliamentary elections, Kaliabor has been with the Congress party on 11 occasions. In 1984 and in 1996, Bhadreswar Tanti and Keshab Mahanta won the seat, both contesting on an AGP ticket.

As per the 2011 census, of a total population of 24,94,396 in the constituency, 93.71% are rural and 6.29% urban. The Scheduled castes (SC) and Scheduled tribes (ST) ratio is 6.22 and 6.74, respectively.

Even though the Congress party won the seat in 2014 Lok Sabha polls with BJP trailing behind in the second position, the ground condition in this constituency is gradually changing for the BJP over the years.

Although Congress’ Gaurav Gogoi won the seat defeating his BJP rival Mrinal Kumar Saikia by a margin of 93,874 votes in 2014, the situation this time seems to be a bit different. It was observed that during the last Lok Sabha elections, the BJP’s position in the tea garden areas was very weak. With governments, both at Centre and the state, the BJP has managed to consolidate its position in the last three to four years among the tea voters. The results of the panchayat election have also given a positive picture for the BJP, in comparison to Congress, in Kaliabor.

Tea voters are likely play an important role in Kaliabor constituency this time around
Tea voters are likely play an important role in Kaliabor constituency this time around
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Muslims are the single biggest dominating factor in Kaliabor Lok Sabha constituency. With over 30% of the electorate being Muslims, there are reports that the Congress party has made an unofficial alliance with the AIUDF – the Muslim-dominant party in Assam. A section of hardcore Congress supporters and panchayat-level leaders are not happy with this arrangement between the two parties. Some party leaders feel that to make a smooth passage for Gaurav Gogoi this time, his high-profile father and former Assam CM Tarun Gogoi managed to influence the party high command to make this arrangement.

On the other hand, following the AGP-BJP alliance, a large section of BJP panchayat-level workers in the constituency are not happy at all as the party has given the seat to the AGP, which has less visibility in the constituency compared to the BJP. A major section of local BJP leaders in the constituency are of the opinion that since AGP doesn’t have much visibility among the masses, the seat shouldn’t have been given to the AGP.

Like on previous occasions, in Kaliabor constituency, tea voters will play an important role this time as well. In the last Lok Sabha elections, Congress’ Gaurav Gogoi secured altogether 443,315 votes while Mrinal Saikia, the then BJP candidate and present BJP legislator from Khumpati LAC, secured 349,441 votes.

It’s been observed that unlike previous occasions, the BJP has managed to penetrate into the age-old tea vote bank of the state this time with the help of various government schemes. Now, a major section of tea workers in the constituency are appreciating the BJP government’s initiative to construct roads, offer medical and education facilities, distribute free ration, including rice and sugar, among others, in the tea gardens. Some of them are also of the opinion that the BJP has managed to improve its position in Assam’s tea gardens through various government-level welfare schemes of the Centre.

But since a majority of Assam tea voters are uneducated, it would be a Herculean task for BJP workers to educate the tea voters to exercise their franchise by pressing the EVM button against the AGP symbol, elephant, in Kaliabor.

In the constituency, it’s been observed that a section of tea voters are gearing up to vote for the BJP this time. But since AGP candidate Mani Madhab Mahatnta is in fray from the ruling alliance this time, so there will be no lotus symbol available in the EVM. So, it will be a million-dollar question how far the BJP and AGP workers will manage to educate this section of people about poll politics ahead of the polling date.

Some of the senior-level BJP workers, who are not happy with the pre-poll alliance, have also expressed their views that they will prefer to stay indoors during the electioneering process. “We know how much hard work we have done to convert these tea garden voters from Congress to BJP supporters. These are uneducated people. If we tell them to vote for AGP now, and again for the BJP almost two years later during the Assembly elections, they will be totally confused. And in such cases, it’s likely that the BJP will suffer in the long run. So, AGP workers will do whatever they want to do,” a senior BJP worker said during an informal conversation with this author.

Theoretically, it seems that Kaliabor Parliamentary seat is heading for a photo finish this time between the Congress and the AGP. But only time will tell how the AGP-BJP leadership will manage to convert their support into votes against the Congress candidate, Gaurav Gogoi, unofficially “supported” by the AIUDF.

(The author is an assistant editor at EastMojo. Views expressed are his own. He can be reached at jayanta.goswami@eastmojo.com)