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Sunday, May 09, 2021

After Jaipur, Bhutan and Sikkim: in long wait for results, Mahajot’s hunt for havens

The official line of the parties is that their candidates needed a “break” after months of hectic campaigning.

Written by Tora Agarwala | Guwahati |
Updated: April 15, 2021 9:50:40 pm
Assam polls, AIUDFAll India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) Chief Badruddin Ajmal after casting his vote during the second phase of Assam assembly polls, in Donkigaon, Hojai. (PTI Photo)

THE Assam Assembly poll results still more than a fortnight away, the number of candidates of the Mahajot now on “vacation” outside the state as they keep a vigil is growing. Amid talk of horse trading, first the AIUDF shepherded 17 leaders to Jaipur’s Fairmont Resort (that earlier starred in a two-month-long Rajasthan game of thrones drama in July last year). Now several candidates of the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) have left Guwahati, though their whereabouts remain a matter of speculation — ranging from the more prosaic Chhattisgarh (among the few Congress-ruled states besides Rajasthan) to Bhutan, Sikkim, even Singapore.

According to some reports, the Singapore plans got scuttled due to the Covid curbs.

The BPF denied that it feared that the BJP might poach its winning MLAs, while claiming in turn that five-six members of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) belonging to BJP ally United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL), also a Bodo outfit, were in touch with it.

The official line of the parties is that their candidates needed a “break” after months of hectic campaigning. “They went on a personal capacity to relax,” said Champak Kalita, general secretary, AIUDF. “They will be back soon, and a few are already back.”

BPF general secretary Prabin Baro said, “Some of our candidates have gone to Chhattisgarh, some to Sikkim, some to Bhutan… Where they have gone is irrelevant, but the fact is that everyone deserves a break after the elections.”

Baro added that the media was drawing “wrong inferences” about horsetrading fears because of the BJP’s inherent nature of “buying politicians like they did in the BTC elections last year” and the “Tamulpur incident”.

In December 2019, the BJP had won a clear majority in elections to the 40-member autonomous BTC, but the BJP and UPPL had managed to manoeuvre control of the council after days of high drama which saw the newly elected leaders being taken to resorts and hotels. More recently, just a week before the third phase of the Assam elections on April 6, BPF Tamulpur candidate Rangja Khungur Basumatary had switched sides and joined the BJP.

On the UPPL, Baro argued that it was natural for its leaders to seek out the BPF. “When the Mahajot forms the government in Dispur, it won’t make sense for the UPPL to hold power in the BTC. That is why UPPL members are reaching out to us as even they are certain the Mahajot will form the government in Assam,” he said.

Earlier, the AIUDF’s Karim Uddin Barbhuiya, among the party candidates who went to Jaipur, had said five-six BJP MLAs were in touch with the Mahajot.

As per a source in the AIUDF, the feelers are coming due to the internal conflict within the BJP owing to “two emerging factions courtesy the rivalry between Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal for the post of CM”.

He added that while the Jaipur visit was “a leisure trip”, it was also to “assess the mood and size up the body language” of the candidates who had got tickets for the first time. “Moreover, the senior leadership needed to do some strategic planning.”

Assam Congress spokesperson Rhituporna Konwar asserted no one from the Congress has gone anywhere, while reiterating the AIUDF and BPF line that its leaders needed time to relax. However, he said it was good to “take precautions and be vigilant” when it comes to the BJP. “The BJP always does horse trading. They never get a majority but manage to form the government, like they did in Goa and Manipur. We are hundred percent sure no one will go but you can’t trust the BJP as they may use pressure tactics.”

BJP state president Ranjeet Dass rubbished the claims that their candidates had approached the Mahajot. “All lies,” he said, adding that the BJP did not “need to buy any candidates” because the NDA was “fully confident of forming the government on May 2 on its own”.

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