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Bodoland polls: New alliances, faultlines take shape in ‘semi-final’ for Assam elections

The BJP is contesting the BTC polls on its own, and as the campaign reaches its crescendo, the saffron party has come out all guns blazing against its former ally.

Written by Abhishek Saha | Guwahati | December 6, 2020 6:34:41 am
Polling for the 40-seat BTC was originally scheduled for April 4 but was indefinitely deferred due to the coronavirus.

The Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) elections in Assam next week mark the beginning of new political alliances and hostilities before the state elections in 2021. While the BJP has broken up with its ally in the state government, the Bodo People’s Front (BPF), the Congress and the AIUDF have officially come together.

Elections to the 40 seats of the BTC are to be held on December 7 and 10. The BJP is contesting the BTC polls on its own, and as the campaign reaches its crescendo, the saffron party has come out all guns blazing against its former ally.

BTC is an autonomous, self-governing body under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. There have been two Bodo accords earlier—the second led to BTC’s formation in 2003.

Of the 40 seats, 30 are reserved for STs, five for non-STs and as many are unreserved. Besides, six nominated members—was to be held on April 4. But it was indefinitely deferred due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal began his campaign for the polls on Thursday with a pitch for “parivartan”. “Our aim is that all communities residing in the BTR region, can live with self-respect and dignity… and that all can get the opportunity to stride ahead towards development with dignity,” he told a large rally in Udalguri district’s Kalaigaon.

Meanwhile, the BJP’s key leader in the North-East, Himanta Biswa Sarma, has been addressing multiple public meetings and holding large motorcycle and car rallies each day in the Bodoland Territorial Region. At a rally last month, Sarma had said: “Soon, tyres of BPF’s car will be punctured. They have been running because the BJP was inflating their tyres. We will not give any more pump… Now lotus will bloom here and we will keep the plough [BPF’s symbol] in a museum.”

In his speeches, the Assam minister has singled out BPF supremo Hagrama Mohilary, who was also the Chief Executive Member of the BTC till earlier this year. Mohilary reacted to Sarma’s salvo by setting up the contest as a one-on-one fight. “This election is a fight between Himanta Biswa Sarma and me. It is a question of whether he will win or me.”

In the 2015 BTC elections, BPF won 20 seats and came to power. The BJP won one.

This year’s BTC election comes after the Centre signed a landmark peace and development accord with Bodo groups in January. Over 1,600 members of the militant outfit, National Democratic Front of Bodoland, laid down their arms. The accord and the promise of its quick implementation give the BJP an advantage in the elections.

As the rivalry between the BJP and the BPF plays out, the Congress and the AIUDF have solidified their proposed alliance against the BJP for the state elections. On Wednesday, state Congress chief Ripun Bora and AIUDF chief Badruddin Ajmal landed in BTR region in a chopper to jointly kick-start their campaign.

“They are always saying Ajmal, Ajmal and Ajmal… If you love Ajmal that much, then come and surrender to Ajmal,” the three-time MP said at one of the joint rallies on Wednesday, referring to the BJP’s continuous attacks on him. He added that this was the first time in Assam’s political history that his party and the Congress were campaigning from the same stage. “Congress is our big brother. We will together work for you,” Ajmal told the crowd.

The break in the BJP’s alliance with the BPF was marked by the defection of popular BPF face and Rajya Sabha MP Biswajit Daimary.

Daimary, who joined the BJP on November 22 had told The Indian Express in November: “One of the main reasons for my resignation from BPF is that the party is opposed to the implementation of the accord signed earlier this year. What happens to the BJP-BPF alliance after results of BTC elections will be decided later.”

State BJP chief Ranjit Dass told had The Indian Express earlier: “People want development and we will give it to them. We are seeing over 15,000 people at each of our rallies in BTR. We want equality and development in BTR. The Bodoland elections will show the signs for the state elections next year—we are calling this the semifinal.”

“There is massive corruption in BTC… The Narendra Modi government and the Sarbananda Sonowal government send money for people — but they do not receive the benefits because of the BPF administration,” Dass alleged.

Another major player in the BTC elections is the United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL), led by Promod Boro. Boro is the former president of All Bodo Students’ Union and was one of the signatories of the accord. The UPPL is contesting all 40 seats.

“We are in a good position. It seems BPF and BJP are not on good terms. This will affect the BPF. We are promising peace, unity and security to people,” Boro told The Indian Express. “The last 17 years have seen a lot of bloodshed. The accord has put an end to it. So, we are promising security and good governance. We will end corruption.”

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