Gogoi's hat-trick

Published : Jun 03, 2011 00:00 IST

The Congress' third consecutive victory in Assam was facilitated by its development plank and the opposition's disunity.

in Guwahati

THE ruling Congress in Assam scored a hat-trick with its landslide victory in the Assembly elections. The party secured an absolute majority by winning 78 of the 126 seats, 14 more than the magic number of 64 required to form the government. It was the biggest win ever for any party in the State since 1972. The Congress tally increased by 25 seats, from 53 in the 2006 elections. The results have enabled Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi to script history by becoming the second politician after Bimala Prasad Chaliha to head the State for a third consecutive term.

The two major opposition parties, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), suffered humiliating defeats. The AGP managed to win only 10 seats this time, against the 24 seats won in 2006. The regional party failed to win even a single seat in 21 of the 27 districts and its representation has been limited to the districts of Nagaon, Lakhimpur, Bongaigaon, Hailakandi, Sonitpur and Udalguri.

The BJP's strength was reduced to five from 10 in 2006. It failed to win even a single seat from the 23 districts including Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi in the Barak valley where the party had its strongholds. The party now has one elected representative each from the districts of Dibrugarh, Tinsukia and Kamrup and two from Barpeta.

The All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), which has a strong presence among the immigrant Muslim settlers in the State, emerged as the second largest party with 18 seats. In 2006, in its debut electoral appearance, it had won 10 seats and prevented the Congress from securing a majority on its own.

The Congress' ally, the Bodoland Peoples Front (BPF), won 12 seats this time, increasing its tally by one since 2006. The hopes of the AIUDF and the BPF of becoming kingmakers were shattered by the huge victory of the Congress. Both parties had believed that the Congress would fall short of a majority owing to the anti-incumbency sentiment whipped up by the opposition parties and would need their support to form the government.

Tarun Gogoi, however, announced immediately after the declaration of the results that the BPF would continue to be its ally in government despite his party being in a position to form the next government on its own.

The 10 seats won by the AIUDF in 2006 came from the Barak Valley and Nagaon and Dhubri districts in the Brahmaputra valley. This time, the party extended its influence to the lower Assam districts of Barpeta, Goalpara and Kamrup. In Barpeta district, the AIUDF wrested three seats from the Congress and two from the AGP. The AIUDF also wrested the Boko seat in Kamrup district from the AGP. Of the eight seats in the district, the AIUDF secured five, the BJP two and the Congress one. In Goalpara district, the party won three of the four seats.

In 2006, neither the AIUDF nor the BJP had won a single seat in Barpeta district. The growing influence of the AIUDF and the BJP in lower Assam means that there can be a sharp polarisation of the electorate on communal lines if secular parties fail to resist such a tendency.

A vote for peace

Gogoi attributed the landslide victory of his party to the achievements of his government, especially in improving the law and order situation and in bringing all major insurgent groups, save for some factions, to the negotiating table. Development work such as the construction of roads and bridges, the accent on health and education, welfare measures for the poor, farmers, weavers and all marginalised sections of society went down well with the people.

The people of Assam reposed their faith in us and gave us the chance to score a hat-trick by giving a mandate to rule the State for the third consecutive term as they are satisfied with the performance of the Congress government, Gogoi told journalists after the declaration of the results. He said the people rejected the opposition parties because they lacked commitment and ideology, and were merely hankering after power.

The 77-year-old Chief Minister, who underwent three critical heart operations just a few months before the run-up to the polls, won from Titabar constituency by a margin of 54,199 votes against his AGP rival Montu Mani Dutta.

The two Left parties the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or the CPI(M), and the Communist Party of India (CPI) drew a blank this time. In 2006, the CPI(M) had won two seats and the CPI one. The All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) won one seat this time.

Reacting to the Congress victory, the CPI(M) said that the ongoing peace process with the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) had a great impact on the people. The split in the opposition votes also helped the ruling coalition, it said. Besides, the Left, democratic and secular parties failed to forge a front against the Congress and hence people voted for the Congress in the hope of getting a stable government. Of the two seats won by the CPI(M) in 2006, Sarbhog, considered a bastion of the party, was wrested from the party by the BJP, while the Rangiya seat was recaptured by the Congress. The CPI lost its lone seat of Nazira in Sivasagar district to the Congress.

The AGP's founder-president and the Leader of Opposition, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, and former AGP president Brindaban Goswami accused the ruling party of manipulating the electronic voting machines (EVM). State BJP president Ranjit Dutta also raised the same doubt. The AGP, which was found in the upper Assam town of Golaghat in 1985, was routed in the upper Assam districts of Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Golaghat, Jorhat and Sivasagar. In the 2006 elections, the AGP had won four seats in these districts.

It was a Congress show all the way in Jorhat and Sivasagar districts. The party won all the 12 seats in these two districts. In Dibrugarh, the Congress won five of the six seats. The remaining one seat went to the sitting BJP legislator from Dibrugarh constituency, who managed to retain his seat. In Tinsukia district, the ruling party won four of the five seats and the BJP one.

Both AGP president Chandra Mohan Patowary and State BJP president Ranjit Dutta figured among the prominent candidates who bit the dust. Other prominent losers included senior Congress leader and State Parliamentary Affairs Minister Bharat Chandra Narah and Fisheries Minister Nurjamal Sarkar. Mahanta won from Barhampur constituency but lost to Environment and Forest Minister Rockybul Hussain in Samaguri constituency.

AGP's vacillation

While the AGP suffered a humiliating defeat, Mahanta emerged stronger within his party as most of the AGP candidates who got elected this time are known to be his trusted lieutenants. Mahanta, who had been expelled from the AGP in 2005 for anti-party activities, returned to the parent party in 2008 by merging his splinter party, the AGP (Pragatisheel), with it. Mahanta's return had been facilitated by pressure from grass-root AGP workers to end the internal squabbling and strengthen the regional party. Despite the efforts by the AGP to make a show of unity before the electorate, differences among its leaders was visible in the choice of an electoral ally from among the BJP, the AIUDF and the Left parties. A section of AGP leaders and workers did not like the idea of hobnobbing with AIUDF chief Badruddin Ajmal and preferred a continuation of the electoral alliance with the BJP. And because of the AGP's vacillation in choosing an ally, the Left parties distanced themselves from the regional party.

Unable to make a decision, the AGP came up with the proposal of a mahajot' (grand alliance) of all opposition parties. It wasted time and energy pushing this idea despite the Left parties, the BJP and the AIUDF rejecting it.

The opposition parties' major poll plank was the corruption and scams during the past 10 years of Congress rule. However, their failure to take the campaign to the electorate in a convincing manner, especially to voters in the rural areas, gave the Congress poll plank of peace and development an edge.

The freebies distributed by the Congress coalition government through the panchayats bicycles to girl children, computers to schoolchildren, medicated mosquito nets and blankets, pay hike to State government employees, yarn to weavers, rice at Rs.6 a kilogram also won it the support of a large section of the electorate. While the Congress reached out to rural as well as urban voters effectively, the opposition parties' campaign was mostly media-centric and therefore could not go beyond urban voters.

Besides, the hobnobbing of the AGP with the AIUDF pushed a large section of the Assamese-speaking electorate, who perceive the AIUDF as the champion of Bengali-speaking immigrant Muslim settlers, towards the Congress. Since Gogoi always resisted any move within his party to forge an electoral tie-up with the AIUDF, the majority of Assamese voters went with the Congress.

Another important factor behind the massive victory of the Congress was its ability to attract a large number of first-time voters and women voters by fielding new and young faces and also women candidates. Most of the new, young candidates were elected with convincing margins, and some even turned out to be giant killers. Former Assam Tea Tribe Students Union (ATTSU) leader Pallab Lochan Das defeated State BJP president Ranjit Dutta in Behali constituency while former State National Students' Union of India (NSUI) president Rekibuddin Ahmed defeated senior AGP leader and former Minister Kamala Kalita in Chaygaon constituency

Women's representation went up marginally by one seat this time. Of the 14 women candidates elected, 11 belong to the Congress, two to the BPF and one to the AIUDF. The AGP's two sitting women legislators, Alaka Desai Sarma from Nalbari and Sushila Hazarika from Dergaon, lost this time.

Cabinet formation will be a tough challenge for the Congress as there will be too many aspirants for ministerial berths. However, as the size of the Ministry is to be limited to 19 and the BPF will continue to be in government too, the Congress will have to try all possible permutations and combinations to ensure proportional representation and not leave any room for dissidence.

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