DATELINE Guwahati /Wasbir Hussain
Assam witnessed unprecedented polling on April 4, the first phase of the ongoing State Assembly elections. At more than 82 per cent, the turnout has been the highest ever in any form of elections in the State. Of course, this was the turnout during the first phase comprising 65 Assembly seats. Polls to the second and fil phase that will cover 61 seats will take place on Monday, April 11. The one thing that has been demonstrated, rather forcefully, is that voters in Assam have become more than conscious of their democratic right to vote and elect their chosen representative. This, in itself, is a good sign.
What could this turnout mean? First of all, one need to factor in the fact that even in the 1985 Assembly polls, held in the wake of a mass uprising and signing of the historic Assam Accord, the polling percentage was a little more than 79. That was a euphoric moment in Assam’s history as the 1985 polls were held in the wake of independent India’s biggest ever mass upsurge, the movement against illegal migrants from Bangladesh. What were the pull factors this time that brought the voters out of their homes across eastern and southern Assam to surpass the 1985 turnout?
One thing is that this has been the toughest elections in Assam in 30 years, an election that is being fought primarily by two tiol political parties—the Congress and the BJP. Secondly, this has also been among the most bitterly contested elections where political opponents took recourse to a language never heard in the State’s political or social are ever. The BJP, for instance, has been going around with slogans saying ‘Aibar Axomot Khilonjiar Sorkar’ (This time, a Government by the indigenous people of Assam). I don’t know if the BJP means to suggest that the governments headed by Tarun Gogoi, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta or Sarat Chandra Sinha were not by the ‘khilonjias.’
If that is an issue that calls for explation by the BJP, the Congress has gone all out in saying the BJP was out to commulise the society in Assam by dividing the people on commul lines. Persol attacks too have been coming during the campaign with Prime Minister rendra Modi saying people would like to say ‘Tarun Go..Go..’ instead of Tarun Gogoi. To the prime minister’s suggestion that the voters would like to bid Gogoi good bye this time, the Chief Minister asked if Modi was praying for his demise.
Since the battle has been sharp this time, the political parties and the candidates, in particular, have taken extra efforts to make sure the people come out to vote. The Election Commission, too, deserves credit for campaigns to ensure voter turnout. And, of course, the intense and passiote debates on local television, mainly programmes involving common people, have generated an extra interest in the exercise.
The scene appears to be hazy in the 61 seats going to the polls on Monday. In 2011, the Congress had won 24 of the 61 seats, followed by the AIUDF at 17. The BJP had bagged only three while the BPF won 9 seats. However, the scerio changed drastically during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in these 61 seats spread over the Bodo-domited districts, Dhubri, Barpeta, Goalpara, Kamrup, lbari, Darrang, Morigaon and gaon. During the last Lok Sabha polls, the Congress that had won 24 seats in the 2011 Assembly elections was leading in only seven Assembly seats. The BJP gained immensely and despite winning only three seats in 2011, was leading in 26 Assembly seats in 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The AIUDF maged to hold on to its seats.
If the 2014 trend is to continue, then the Congress will have a tough contest ahead in these 61 seats. But, the BJP’s surge may lead to the Muslim settlers living in districts like Barpeta, Goalpara, Dhubri and Morigaon to take a decision to shift allegiance from the AIUDF to the Congress because they are likely to see the Congress standing a better chance to fight the BJP than the AIUDF. If this happens, the Congress may regain lost ground in a large number of areas covered by these 61 seats. A picture would become clearer once the turnout is known on Monday.