The campaigning for votes is beginning to peak with the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) elections slated for 8 April. With concerns being raised about sporadic violence in the run up to the polls, the campaigning by different political parties is throwing up patterns with long-term implications. The BJP is contesting for the first time, putting up candidates in all the 40 seats, surely with an eye to the Assembly elections next year. Addressing BJP rallies at Kokrajhar and Gossaigaon, Union minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju reminded voters that it was the Atal Behari Vajpayee government’s initiative which brought about the BTC in 2003. He also promised that if the BJP comes to power in the Council, the Centre will release funds to it directly. This has been one of the sore points for the ruling Bodoland Peoples Front (BPF), with Hagrama Mohilary losing no opportunity to complain about fund allocation to BTC. Not to be left behind, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi addressed rallies at Bijni and Barpeta Road, promising a Rs 500 crore special package for BTAD if the Congress is elected. However, Gogoi’s about-turn after his promise of a Rs 1,000 crore package during the civic body elections must be fresh in voters’ minds. After the results were out of a Congress poor performance in most municipalities and town committees, Gogoi had hilariously said: “From where will I fork out Rs 1,000 crores? Let Union minister Sarbanda Sonowal get it from the Centre.” This is how political parties cynically play with voters’ aspirations by holding out lollipops and carrots. Breaking off its alliance with the BPF, the Congress is going it alone in the third BTC elections. PCC president Anjan Dutta may claim that the Congress will wrest 30 seats, but his party faces an uphill struggle after neglecting to build up a solid base on the ground. As for the AIUDF which has put up candidates for eight constituencies, the star campaigner is party supremo Badaruddin Ajmal with hectic rallies and distribution of ‘magic water’ blessed with his spells!
After winning the first two BTC elections handsomely, the BPF is facing a tough challenge for the first time in 11 years. With the BJP, Congress and AIUDF making inroads, the two non-Bodo fronts ‘O-Boro Suraksha Manch’ and ‘Sanmilita Jonogosthiya Oikya Manch’ are also busy campaigning for their own candidates. After the defeat of powerful BPF candidate Chandan Brahma at the hands of ‘Sanmilita Jonogosthiya Oikya Manch’ candidate ba Sarania in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections for the Kokrajhar seat, the political equation in BTAD has undergone a sea change. But all eyes are on which way the Bodo electorate will vote. This time there is also a strong Bodo challenge to Hagrama’s BPF, with five powerful organisations ABSU, BPPF, UDPF, NDFB(P) and Peoples Joint Committee for Bodoland Movement joining forces under the banner of ‘Peoples Committee for Democratic Rights’ (PCDR). All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) president ABSU is taking the lead in campaigning against Hagrama’s rule with well-attended rallies. Significantly, 18 organisations representing various groups including Gorkhas, Bengalis and minorities, have extended support to the PCDR. There are already reports of clashes between BPF and PCDR supporters in some places. In this complicated electoral backdrop, a Central team recently reviewed the law and order situation in BTAD, followed by a meeting of the Unified Command. The Central government and a pro-active Election Commission need to ensure free and fair polls in BTAD by keeping the State administration on its toes, as any bloodshed may seriously impact fragile relations between the mosaic of communities in this sensitive region.