Assam elections: In Sankardev’s town, a mela brings ‘minority’ discontent to the fore

Hindus may be outnumbered by Muslims in seats like Batadroba and Dhing, but BJP hopes for a consolidation of votes behind it

Written by Abantika Ghosh | Batadroba | April 9, 2016 3:33:22 am
Srimanta Sankardev, assam, Srimanta Sankardev assam, assam polls, assam elections,  Vaishnavism assam, rahul gandhi barpeta temple controversy, assam bjp, assam congress, assam satra community, assam election news, assam news, india news, latest news Sankardev was one of the propagators of Vaishnavism in Assam.

Srimanta Sankardev, the 15th-century social reformer, has shot into prominence this election season. From Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s aborted attempt to enter a Satra in Barpeta last year, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s invocation of him in her speech, to repeated mentions by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, Sankardev is back in the news.

Sankardev was one of the propagators of Vaishnavism in Assam. In his birthplace Bardowa (now known as Batadroba) and surrounding areas, there is discontent among Hindus after “trouble” erupted at a Holi mela last month. There is also a buzz about depleting numbers of Hindus in relation to Muslims. This could end up as the nemesis of the Congress, which has locked horns with AIUDF for Muslim votes. Hindus may have been outnumbered in constituencies like Batadroba and neighbouring Dhing, but the BJP would be hoping for a consolidation of votes behind it.

Batadroba has one of the earliest temples built by Sankardev, dedicated to Krishna. It is the venue of a mela every Doljatra (Holi). When The Indian Express visited a temple dedicated to Radha in the complex, a heated discussion was on about the lack of administrative and police arrangements at the mela, which concluded two weeks ago.

Nayan Medhi, a businessman, said, “There is usually no communal discord here. But during this mela, Muslim youths caused trouble. They came in large groups and harassed women. Police were called.”

Asked about the numbers of Hindus and Muslims, farmer Dibyojyoti Kalita said, “We are a minority now. A classmate of mine just married off his granddaughter and I have just one small daughter. That is how fast they have increased.” Kalita was full of disdain for the BJP candidate, actor Angurlata Deka, who he called a “parachute candidate”. The others, though, said the BJP had the edge. “There is a wind in favour of the BJP, how does the candidate matter,” Tarun Mahanta asked.

The temple has no political affiliations. However paying obeisance there matters — as Rahul Gandhi found out in Barpeta when he was criticised for addressing a rally without going to the Satra first. Angurlata has already paid two visits to the temple, said a priest. “Goutam Bora (Congress candidate) came here too. Politicians always visit the temple if they come here,” he added.

The fight for Muslim votes, meanwhile, is heating up with murmurs of a “secret understanding” between the two parties after AIUDF replaced its candidate Motiur Rehman, who lost the last Assembly elections by 131 votes. “I cannot say if tickets were distributed for money. There are 70,000 Muslims here and 65,000 Hindus. We will win comfortably because we will get at least 10,000 majority votes,” said Baharul Islam, local secretary of AIUDF. Aren’t Muslims the majority here? He laughs. “I am going by the practice of Muslims being designated as minorities. Whichever way you look at it, the game here is between AIUDF and BJP. The Congress does not stand a chance,” he added.

In Dhing, Muslims outnumber Hindus by a greater margin — 32,000 Hindus against 1 lakh Muslims, said one resident. “They have more children, we are being reduced to a non-entity,” said Deepak Mohanty. But he was all praise for AIUDF candidate Aminul Haji. “I have good relations with him,” he said.

Aminul is the sitting MLA but should Congress candidate Anwar Husain make a substantial dent in the Muslim vote, BJP’s Mukut Debnath could have a chance, though given the far bigger chunk of Muslim votes, even a complete Hindu consolidation would not be enough.

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