They may look like a motley group — jhalmuri wallah Baharul Sheikh, IIM-Ahmedabad graduate Prodyut Kumar Bora, filmmaker Bobbeeta Sarma, perfume baron Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, former ULFA militant Suresh Bora, former AASU president Sankar Prasad Roy and POCSO accused Gopinath Das. What binds them is that all of them will seek to become MLAs when voting takes place to 61 seats in Assam Monday.
“We have given more than 60 years to the rich people. What have they done for poor people like us?” said Baharul Sheikh, 32, as he moves around Dhubri town selling jhalmuri and earning Rs 300 to Rs 350 a day; he is the Rashtriya Secular Congress nominee. “My father used to cut firewood in a shop. I am selling jhalmuri. Nothing has changed. That is why I want to go to the assembly and find out what I can do for the poor.”
Bora, the IIM graduate, wants to bring about a change in society. “Politics is the most powerful instrument to bring about societal change,” said Bora, also an alumnus of RIMC and St Stephen’s, who quit the BJP two years ago to float Liberal Democratic Party. He is contesting both Guwahati East and Jorhat.
Congress nominee and filmmaker Bobbeeta Sharma, whose serial Bideshat Apon Manuh is a huge hit on Assamese TV, wants to help make Guwahati a world-class city. “Mine is the only 100 per cent urban constituency. I have grown up here, studied here, but regret that Guwahati has yet to become a truly modern city,” said Sharma, contesting Guwahati East. There are two more film personalities in the fray — 2007 Rajatkamal winner Suman Haripriya (Hajo) and popular Assamese actor Angoorlata Deka (Batadrova) are both BJP candidates.
Also among the 523 candidates for the second phase are Dhubri MP Ajmal, 61. A Mumbai-based perfume merchant whose company has over 500 outlets across the globe, he is contesting from South Salmara. His son Abdur Rahman Ajmal, 31, a fazil from Darul Uloom, Deoband (UP) is the AIUDF candidate in Jamunamukh.
In Hajo, one candidate is Mohan Chandra Malakar, a former Indian Forest Service officer and chief wildlife warden, who also served as Information Commissioner after his retirement. “I wonder where people get so much money. One of my rivals, I am told, did not get a ticket from his party even after spending over Rs 20 lakh. Fighting as an independent. he spent over Rs 7 lakh on the day of filing nominations. I spent only Rs 2,950 that day,” said Malakar.
Sankar Prasad Ray, AASU president till July 2015, is the Congress candidate from Bongaigaon. He hit local headlines when newspapers discovered that his net assets are worth Rs 37.96 lakh. Ray had initially joined the BJP, but quit after being denied a ticket and shifted to the Congress. The assets of his former comrade — former AASU general secretary Topon Kumar Gogoi (BJP), whose affidavit describes him as a tea cultivator — is more than Rs 51 lakh.
Among those in the fray in the second phase are several familiar and veteran names — six-time MLA and two-time chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta (Barhampur), Congress-turned-BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma (Jalukbari), Tarun Gogoi’s current most trusted aide and Agriculture Minister Rakibul Hussain (Samaguri), AGP-turned-Congress leader Zoiinath Sarma (Sipajhar), UPP leader and former Rajya Sabha member Urkhaw Gwra Brahma (Kokrajhar West), to name a few.
As in the first phase, several former militants are also contesting in the second phase. Prominent among them are former ULFA militant Suresh Bora (Congress candidate against Mahanta for the second time in Barhampur), ex-BLT leader and former minister Chandan Brahma (BPF, Sidli), and two other ex-BLT militants (by now ex-MLAs too) Sib Charan Basumatary (Congress, Dudhnoi), Maneswar Brahma (BPF, Barama) and Maheswar Boro (BPF, Kalaigaon).
At least 42 of the 523 candidates in fray in the second phase have criminal cases against them. Prominent among them are Rafiqul Islam (AIUDF, Jania), Abdur Rahim Khan (AIUDF, Barpeta), Abdur Rahim Ahmed (Congress, Barpeta) and Gopinath Das (AIUDF, Boko). While Rafiqul Islam is the lone candidate with sedition charges (Sections 121,122 and 123 of the IPC) against him, Khan and Ahmed have charges framed against them in various cognisable cases. Gopinath Das was arrested last October last year under Section 4/8 of the POCSO Act for the alleged rape of a minor girl whom he had engaged as a domestic help.