Contesting the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council (KAAC) elections for the first time this year, the BJP had promised to change the fortunes of the woefully underdeveloped district administered under the Sixth Schedule. And the voters had responded enthusiastically with a turnout of 78% in the polls held last month on June 17, said to be the most peaceful election ever since the council was constituted in 1952. The BJP won the contest hands down, bagging 24 out of 26 seats; the remaining two seats were won by the Karbi Anglong Democratic Forum (KADF), widely believed to be the BJP’s B-team despite its candidates being disgruntled BJP ticket seekers. The Congress was nowhere in the picture, routed unceremoniously after contesting all 26 seats, a miserable end after ruling KAAC from 2001 to 2015. The Autonomous State Demand Committee (ASDC) too drew a blank, a far cry from its heyday in 1989 when it had swept the council with 22 seats. As for the AGP, alliance partner of BJP at Dispur, the failure to win a single seat out of the 14 seats it contested this time, is another reminder where the regiol party stands presently. So the BJP, which was anyway ruling KAAC after Tuliram Ronghang and other Congress Executive Members switched over en masse to the saffron party last year, this resounding electoral victory provides the much-needed seal of legitimacy. After all, it follows a similar pattern to how the BJP won the North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council (NCHAC) Dima Hasao in October 2015 by first engineering a defection led by former DHD military chief Niranjan Hojai. The Congress-led council was reduced to a minority overnight, and the party failed to make a comeback there after it was unseated in Dispur too six months later. The BJP won four out of five assembly seats falling in Dima Hasao, and even the lone Congress winner Mansing Rongpi later on joined the BJP. The next elections for NCHAC are scheduled for May 2018, with the BJP presently ruling the council with former Congress members who have donned saffron colours. It is a safe bet to assume that when Dima Hasao goes for council elections next year, the ruling BJP will replicate its Karbi Anglong win there too.
So the strategy of first engineering a defection, taking control of an autonomous council, capitalising on that base and winning elections is paying off handsomely for the BJP in Assam. The KAAC results do not reflect how bitterly electoral battle was fought, with accusations and counter-accusations flying thick and fast between Congress and BJP. Chief Minister Sarbanda Sonowal and influential minister Himanta Biswa Sarma led the saffron charge in Karbi Anglong, with all top BJP leaders fanning out to different parts of the hill district for campaigning. They all sought to drive home the message that Karbi Anglong will be given a fast track to development after the BJP is returned to power in the council. Thereafter in the first flush of victory, State BJP president Ranjit Dass crowed that the people’s will had prevailed over ‘money power and muscle power, that the Congress has been uprooted due to its long corrupt record in the hills council. There was much speculation how the BJP leadership would bring about a change in the council’s working for the better. mes like Ratan Teron and Jagat Sing Engti gained currency as possible challengers to Tuliram Ronghang, the previous Chief Executive Member (CEM) of the council. Dogged by a slew of corruption allegations, Ronghang had been widely viewed as representative of everything that was bad about Congress rule. But on Wednesday, Ronghang had the last laugh with his two closest rivals proposing his me as CEM and all other BJP Executive Members giving their support. So, it is realpolitik that has won the day in KAAC, with the BJP leadership mindful of Ronghang’s undoubted political clout and money power. So where does this leave the mandate for change that swept through the Karbi Anglong hills last month? In almost all developmental parameters, this hills district has remained chronically backward over the decades. Whether it is State Class X HSLC results or the Gunotsav survey of primary schools started this year, Karbi Anglong languished at bottom of the list. Its infrastructure remains rudimentary, giving little hope of jump-starting economic activity anytime soon. Insurgency remains a potent threat — with KPLT still active, a new outfit PDCK suspected to be backed by NDFB hardliner IK Songbijit carrying on recruitment drive, while other ultra groups like UPLF and KRA retaining presence in the district. The council remains mired in corruption and mismagement, with very little empowerment of poor tribals at the grassroots. The BJP leadership has opted for status quo under Ronghang. But if it is not to cruelly betray the mandate of change in its favour, it has to do something to improve the allocation of funds to KAAC routed through Dispur, and ensure better accountability in the use of funds in the hills district.