GUWAHATI: The day for the first phase of the Lok Sabha poll in Assam – April 11 – is nearing and the BJP-Congress fight for the Tezpur Lok Sabha is becoming curiously interesting. If BJP nominee Pallab Lochan Das is seeking votes for development, his Congress rival MGVK Bhanu is seeking votes for his 36-year experience as a bureaucrat.
Apart from Das and Bhanu, the constituency has five other nominees –Mahendra Orang of the VPI, Mahendra Bhuyan of the NCP, Bijoy Kumar Tiru of the Adivasi National Party of Assam, Ram Bahadur Sonar of the NPP and Independent candidate Ziabur Rahman Khan. The constituency has 14,94,878 voters in 1,880 polling stations. At present, the seat is held by BJP’s RP Sarmah who has been denied ticket by the party this time. In the 2014 Lok Sabha poll, Sarmah defeated his nearest Congress rival Bhupen Kumar Bora by a margin of 86,020 votes. While Sarmah polled 4,46,511 votes, Bhupen Kumar Bora got 3,60,491 votes. Tezpur Lok Sabha constituency has nine Assembly segments – Dhekiajuli, Barchalla, Tezpur, Rangapara, Sootea, Biswnath, Behali, Gohpur and Bihpuria. While eight of the nine constituencies are currently held by the BJP, one seat is held by its ally AGP. This, people in the constituency feel, may be an advantage for the BJP.
While Pallab Lochn Das is a minister and Rangapara MLA, Bhanu is a retired bureaucrat.
In so far as campaign is concerned, people in the constituency feel that the BJP is carrying out an intense campaign in the constituency that has already been visited by Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and NEDA convener Himanta Biswa Sarma for several times. On the other hand, for Bhanu’s behalf, former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi campaigned in the constituency on April 3.
When asked by a team of The Sentinel visiting the constituency, BJP candidate Das said: “Development and security in the constituency are my poll planks. The North Bank in the constituency was insurgency affected. Even as peace is back in the area after the change of guards at Dispur and in New Delhi, development in the area is not up to the mark. The area had no specific industries till recently. Of late, two industries – Patanjali and Dabur – came up in the area after the BJP coming to power. Development is certainly one of the priorities in the constituency.”
Das further said: “There’re many small tea growers in the constituency. They’re not getting remunerative prices of green leaves, and for this the workers have to bear the brunt. Giving them remunerative prices is another priority.”
On the cultural front, Das said: “Tezpur is culturally rich, but the continuation of its age-old legacy is not that smooth. The legacy of Ban Theatre in this constituency is not the way it should have been. Culture is essentially another priority in this constituency.”
On the other hand, when asked by The Sentinel team, Bhanu said: “I seek vote on my 36-year experience as a bureaucrat in Assam. I do believe that by virtue of my experience as a bureaucrat, I can raise problems of Tezpur and Assam as a whole on the floor of the Parliament. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, if gets its passage in the Parliament, will spell doom for Assam. If voted to power, I’ll fight against the Bill. Development is another agenda to make Tezpur number 1 constituency in the State. I’ve a plan to set up Ban Theatre International at the site of the District Jail by shifting it somewhere else. This apart, giving heritage status to Jonaki Theatre and setting up an NSD (National School of Drama) centre in Tezpur are in my priority list.”
Meanwhile, cross sections of people in the constituency drop enough hints that the tea community voters in the constituency have turned BJP-bound. Abbas Lohar, a voter from Dibru-Darrang Tea Estate, said: “Tea community members have seen socio-economic development after the BJP coming to power. We’re getting free-of-cost rice. Some of us have got concrete dwelling houses and sanitary latrines. We’ve also opened bank accounts, and the government deposited Rs 5,000 in each of the accounts in two equal installments. Earlier, most of the garden workers didn’t have bank accounts. There were no such benefits during the previous regime.”
When asked, writer and translator Dr Sarita Sharma said: “As a citizen, I expect my elected leader to look into the basic problems that we face on a day-to-day basis — roads, streetlights, cleanliness, transparency, safety etc. No leader can claim to be a good one unless she/he can fix the above.”
When asked, Amit Raj Konwar, the founder secretary of Edupur Society, an NGO, said: “We need an MP who believes that youth can develop our society or social economy. He/she must be able to identify the young working social entrepreneurs and help them in every aspect to uplift the society. He/she should meet the young entrepreneurs in every month and listen to their ideas or social feedback.”
The voters in the constituency comprise Tea Tribes, Nepali, religious minority and Bodos, besides the mainstream Assamese. While the fates of the candidates will be sealed in EVMs on April 11, the results will be known on May 23 along with rest of the country.
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