Ahead of the Assembly elections in Assam early next year, two sitting MLAs of the Congress on Tuesday officially joined the BJP, days after they met Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Guwahati.
The defections come close on the heels of the Congress losing in two recently-held polls — for the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) and Tiwa Autonomous Council — in Assam.
Former PWD minister and Golaghat MLA Ajanta Neog and Rajdeep Goala, MLA from Lakhipur constituency of Barak Valley region, joined the BJP in a ceremony attended by senior BJP leaders, including state unit president Ranjeet Dass and senior Assam minister and BJP’s key leader in the Northeast, Himanta Biswa Sarma.
Banendra Mushahary, a former MLA from the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), also joined the BJP at the same event. BPF is an ally of the BJP in the Assam government but in the BTC polls, the saffron party ditched it to form the ruling alliance with the UPPL.
Dass said that on Shah’s advice, the state unit of the party has now formed a screening committee which will approve new entries after inspection. “Before the upcoming elections, the joining of these three leaders will help us advance towards our goal of winning 100 seats (out of 126). We will all together work towards that goal,” Sarma said.
Neog, an influential Congress leader in Upper Assam and MLA since 2001, was a former minister in Tarun Gogoi’s cabinet and was close to him. Her husband Nagen Neog was assassinated in 1996 by suspected ULFA militants. He was then the panchayat and rural development minister in the Hiteswar Saikia-led Congress government in the state.
Neog said that for her the move was like moving from one “home” to another. “The BJP has a vision for the future which is very important,” she said. “The party I have been with so long has developed a gap with the people…the party I served wholeheartedly for 20 long years did not give me the respect I deserved.”
Sarma said that she will help the BJP take forward its ideals to the people.
Goala’s father, Dinesh Prasad Goala, was an important state Congress leader too — a seven-time MLA and former minister. He died in 2014, paving the way for his son to contest elections and become an MLA. “Goala was given a ticket on sympathy grounds at that time,” said a Congress leader, also stating that “Neog’s husband was killed because he believed in the Congress ideology”.
Congress spokesperson Rhituporna Konwar said, “During good times, they had the butter and cream. Now, when we need to come together and fight the BJP and their allies, these leaders have betrayed us. They are opportunists and the people of Assam will teach them a proper lesson in the elections.”
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