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Phase 1: Has Assam really voted for change?

The BJP had two years ago swept Assam by not just winning seven of the 14 seats, but also restricting the Congress to an all-time low of just three seats.

Written by Samudra Gupta Kashyap | Guwahati | Updated: April 4, 2016 9:35:13 pm
assam, assam elections, assam elections 2016, bjp, congress, assam polls Jorhat: Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi with his wife Dolly Gogoi showing their mark after casting vote for the first phase of Assam Assembly election, at Jorhat district of Assam on Monday. PTI Photo (PTI4_4_2016_000020B)

The first phase of polling in Assam – covering 65 of the 126 seats – is likely to throw up many surprises. Always considered a stronghold of the Congress party, the districts that went to polls on Monday in the first phase had elected as many as 55 Congress MLAs in 2011. But with the high percentage of voter turn-out, which witnessed massive participation of young and first-time voters, political pundits are now almost sure that Assam is heading for a change.

“We have in mind Mission-84,” said BJP state president and union sports minister Sarbananda Sonowal, who claimed that the BJP and its allies would get “maximum” number of seats from the first phase. The BJP’s campaign committee chief Himanta Biswa Sarma however put the figure at 40, saying picking up that many seats from the first phase meant the party was heading towards unseating the Congress.

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The BJP had two years ago swept Assam by not just winning seven of the 14 seats, but also restricting the Congress to an all-time low of just three seats.

“There is a direct relation between high voter turn-out and change,” said political commentator Nani Gopal Mahanta, who heads the political science department in Gauhati University here. “Whenever polling percentage is high, the verdict goes against the ruling party. This has been a trend in Assam since 1985. Moreover, while the Congress had already lost much of its original core vote base among migrant Muslims, Bengali Hindus and tea garden labourers, and since young and first-time voters have come out in large numbers, I think the Congress is on its way out,” Mahanta said.

While the overall turn-out in the first phase was 78 per cent, Chabua, a constituency in Dibrugarh district had reported 85 per cent polling. Held by the Congress since 2001, Chabua is one constituency under which falls Jerai Chakalibhoriya, a village from where comes dreaded ULFA leader Paresh Barua and the outfit’s founder general secretary Anup Chetia.

Titabor, the constituency from where chief minister and veteran Congress leader Tarun Gogoi is seeking a fourth consecutive term, on the other hand recorded 78 per cent turn-out, with both Congress and BJP camps claiming that the young and first-time voters had voted for their respective candidates. In Majuli, the island constituency in the middle of the Brahmaputra where BJP state president Sonowal is contesting, on the other hand the turn-out stood at around 80 per cent, with Hem Chandra Doley, BJP campaign manager for the constituency saying the party would defeat the Congress by a huge margin. “Majulials have overwhelmingly voted for Sonowal and BJP. They are sure that Sonowal is the next chief minister,” Doley said.

But three times former union minister and veteran Congress leader Paban Singh Ghatowar said that Congress would retain most seats in the first phase. “Wait for the results on May 19, when you will see many surprises. The tea tribes have returned to the Congress fold,” Ghatowar said. The tea tribes, who are a deciding factor in over 30 constituencies, had in 2014 for the first time since independence voted for a non-Congress party. Two leaders from the tea tribes communities – Kamakhya Prasad Tasha and Rameswar Teli – had won on BJP tickets from Jorhat and Dibrugarh respectively in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

Assam now waits for the second and final phase of the election when the remaining 62 seats go to polls on April 11. While the BJP and its allies – the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodo People’s front (BPF) look at a similar trend of high voter turn-out, most Congress spokespersons looked slightly depressed in the prime-time talk shows that local TV news channels in Guwahati aired on Monday evening. Only the voter knows whether the Congress is out or the BJP is in. (ends)

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