Politics of vendetta in autonomous councils
The ruling Congress in Assam and wanbe BJP are engaged in a no-holds barred battle, with the Tiwa and Dima Hasao autonomous councils considered to be key litmus tests before the assembly elections barely eight months away. At stake are important chunks of the tribal vote, a traditiol Congress stronghold where the BJP is making steady inroads. The Congress has already lost the Tiwa autonomous council, despite winning half the seats in the August 19 elections for the 30-member council. Senior Congress leaders Rakibul Hussain and zrul Islam tried hard to secure the support of an extra member so that their party could form the council. However, Tiwa Jatiya Oikya Manch leader Rama Kanta Deuri had the last laugh when he was elected chief executive member of the council, with Congress members cross-voting in his favour. The Oikya Manch had won 10 seats, the BJP three and AGP two seats in the council elections, but the political equations changed rapidly after dissident Congressmen owing allegiance to Himanta Biswa Sarma got into the act. Reportedly at the behest of Raha MLA Pijush Hazarika likely to follow Himanta Biswa into the BJP, Congress candidate Mohan Sepati from Sohori seat elected to the Tiwa council switched over to the anti-Congress grouping coalescing around Ramakanta Deuri. Seeing which way the wind was blowing, the Congress government then dragged its feet over fixing the date for forming the council, even as four weeks passed after declaration of election results.
It took the Gauhati High Court to prod Dispur into notifying October 9 as the date for forming the Tiwa council, after 13 elected members petitioned the court. The fact that Ramakanta Deuri filly maged to secure not one but two votes from dissident Congress members to be elected CEM of the council with 17 votes, must be bitter medicine for the Congress. After all, in the previous council elections in 2010, Deuri as a Congress candidate had been elected CEM with the party bagging 19 seats then. After Deuri became embroiled in allegations of corruption and mismagement, he was unseated by a section of Congress members through a no-confidence motion. The BJP and the AGP both have thought it fit to back Deuri now, amply showing that ethical values have little to do with their political calculations. In this backdrop, the Congress is now set to lose the Debajit Thaosen led Dima Hasao autonomous council as well, having already been reduced to a minority there. Back in May 2013 when the previous election to the 30-member council was held, the Congress had bagged ten while Independents won in 18 seats. With the Congress in power both at the Centre and in Dispur, it came as no great surprise when six Independents joined the party to give it majority to form the council. The Congress numbers in the council later went up to 19. The BJP had not won a single seat in the council then, but two years later, political winds are blowing its way. The saffron party is now staking claim to form the Dima Hasao council with 18 members, comprising of four members of the Mihir (Jewel) Garlosa group, three members of the Dilip Nunisa group, eight rebel Congress members led by Prakant Warisa and other Independents.
After formally joining the BJP a couple of days back, Garlosa’s troubles have begun with the police arresting him at Guwahati and slapping several serious charges for a murder his DHD outfit committed back in 2008 under Langting police station. The police manhunt is also on for Garlosa’s former comrade-in-arms and BJP colleague Niranjan Hojai. The Congress feathers seem to have been badly ruffled by the Himanta Biswa camp supposedly active in changing power equations in the Dima Hasao council too. Senior minister Rakibul Hussain is now saying that that there are many pending cases against Garlosa and the government ‘will be firm against crimil elements’. Professing ignorance about the matter, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has commented that ‘the law will take its own course’, while APCC president Anjan Dutta has said that this is ‘the price paid by those who hobnob with people arrested under TADA’. The question obviously rises — why could not the government be firm earlier, why did not the law take its course when Garlosa and his compatriots were with the ruling party? In fact, Garlosa was assigned PSOs for his security, and the State government had earlier informed the Gauhati High Court that it had no objection if he was set free on bail. It is such selective use that is giving law a bad me. The message going out is clear — indulging in corrupt or crimil activities, whether in the past or present, will be condoned so long as the perpetrators join hands with the powers-be and do not upset the political applecart.