Hafizur Rehman, a farmer at Kalgachia in Assam’s Barpeta district, is a Doubtful Voter (D-Voter) and hence has not been included in the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) published in August. He won’t be able to vote in the upcoming Jania bypolls, but believes that All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) candidate Hafiz Rafiqul Islam is the strongest contestant.
Rehman’s neighbour Abu Salem Yusuf agrees. “The AIUDF is the only party which is committed to speak up for people facing the brunt of the citizenship tangle.” Firdous Ali, a student leader in Kalgachia, says, “Here, the biggest discussion going on is about the NRC and how lakhs of genuine Indians have been excluded from it. People who have all papers and documents have been left out. And we know which party is committed to helping the poor and illiterate people in solving their citizenship issues.”
Jania, a Muslim-majority constituency, is among four Assembly seats scheduled for bypolls on October 21. Historically a Congress stronghold, in the 2016 state elections, Congress’s Abdul Khaleque defeated Islam by around 30,000 votes, garnering 56.4 per cent of the vote share. Khaleque would go on to win the recent Lok Sabha elections, necessitating the bypoll.
Monday’s bypolls are the first elections in Assam following the publication of the final NRC, and much of the political narrative in the state currently is driven by conversation around the list. In Assam’s Brahmaputra valley, where Barpeta lies, a large number of Muslims of Bengal-origin are supposed to have been excluded from the NRC, although an official break-up is not available.
However, the Congress’s star is on the wane, and many in Jania are seemingly looking at AIUDF’s Islam as a viable candidate.
Amir Ali, a resident of Jania town, says, “The AIUDF candidate is much stronger than the Congress one. Secondly, certain recent statements by Congress leaders – like (former CM) Tarun Gogoi’s comment that NRC is a ‘waste paper’ – has not gone down well with people here. We want a correct NRC, we do not oppose it.” AIUDF’s Islam said, “When the right to citizenship of a genuine Indian is taken away is taken away, he loses the right to have other rights. So we are committed in our fight for solving the citizenship-related troubles of genuine Indians. We will also focus on better health and education facilities and solving the problem of river erosion which affects a large number of people in the constituency.”
Meanwhile, the BJP says it is confident of winning the other three seats going to bypolls, but is a bit skeptical when it comes to Jania. BJP state president Ranjit Dass said, “We are completely confident of winning the three seats. If people of Jania want development they have to vote for the BJP, but if they vote considering other factors then they will vote for others. But the Congress’s prospects are zero in Jania.”
Congress spokesperson Rhituporna Konwar, however, exuded hope that the Congress would wrestle three of the four seats. He said, “Jania is tough contest but we are hopeful. In Sonari and Ratabari, the BJP is nervous and we are strong.”