Assam Assembly elections: Fate of top leaders, including Sonowal, to be decided in first phase

Published: March 25,2021 09:52 PM

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March 25, 2021: As the campaign for the first phase comes to an end after high voltage canvassing, top leaders from Assam including CM Sarbananda Sonowal and several ministers are in the fray.

March 25, 2021: As the campaign for the first phase comes to an end after high voltage canvassing, top leaders from Assam including Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) president Atul Bora, Assam Congress chief Ripun Bora and several ministers are in the fray. Sonowal is seeking re-election from Majuli, a seat he wrested from Congress' Rajib Lochan Pegu in the 2016 Assembly elections. Pegu, who had won the seat for three straight terms since 2001, has again been fielded by Congress.

Assam Assembly Speaker Hitendra Nath Goswami is in the poll battle from Jorhat, ministers Ranjit Dutta from Behali, Naba Kumar Doley from Jonai and Sanjoy Kishan from Tinsukia. The fate of ministers from NDA ally Asom Gana Parishad (AGP)- Atul Bora from Bokakhat and Keshab Mahanta from Kaliabor- will also be sealed during the first phase of polling on March 27.

Ripun Bora is trying his luck from Gohpur seat, where his wife Monika Bora lost in the 2016 polls. The 60-year-old leader will face sitting BJP MLA Utpal Bora. Among other high-profile candidates in the first phase include Congress Legislature Party leader Debabrata Saikia who is contesting from Nazira, AICC Secretary Bhupen Borah from Bihpuria and former ministers Bharat Narah from Naoboicha, Pranatee Phukan from Naharkatiya and Rakibul Hussain from Samaguri.

Congress has fielded Jyoti Baruah in party stronghold Titabar, a seat held by former chief minister Tarun Gogoi till his death on November 23, 2020. BJP candidate Hemanta Kalita will contest against Baruah. Lurinjyoti Gogoi, president of newly-floated regional political party Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) will contest from two seats-- Duliajan and Naharkatia which will go to polls in the first phase.

The fate of jailed anti-CAA activist and Raijor Dal chief Akhil Gogoi from Sibsagar will be decided in the first phase. Gogoi, a peasant leader, is in jail since December 2019 in connection with a National Investigation Agency (NIA) case for his role in the anti-CAA protests in Assam. He was arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). As Raijor Dal had reportedly failed to register with the election commission as a political party, all the Raijor Dal candidates will contest the polls as independent candidates.

Assam Jatiya Parishad and Raijor Dal are contesting the polls in an alliance. As the campaigning for the first phase of Assembly polls in Assam comes to an end this evening, the stage is set for the polling in 47 constituencies in 12 districts on March 27 in the state where the BJP government is seeking to regain power in the 126-member legislature.

The state, in its three-phased polls, is witnessing a direct fight between the BJP-Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Congress-AIUDF alliance. The BJP is banking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's governance, Central public welfare schemes, and on the image of Chief Minister Sarbanand Sonowal. While Congress is heading into the battle against the ruling party bringing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) to the fore.

According to the Election Commission, 81,09,815 voters including 40,77,210 males and 40,32,481 females are eligible to cast their votes at 1,1537 polling stations in the first phase. The counting of votes will take place on May 2. Seats going to polls in the first phase witness election rallies by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, and BJP chief Jagat Prakash Nadda.

From the Congress side, Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra were among top leaders who tried to woo voters urging them to vote for candidates of their party as well as its allies. Congress has stitched a coalition named "Mahajath" with All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist) Liberation, the Anchalik Gana Marcha (AGM) and the Bodoland Peoples' Front (BPF) to oust the BJP government from office.

On the other hand, BJP is seeking to return to power with the help of Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and United People's Party Liberal (UPPL). This is the first Assembly elections in Assam after the state witnessed widespread protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which aims to grant citizenship to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian, Jain, Parsi refugees who came to India from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan till December 31, 2014, and the publication of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) list.

The Congress leadership has strongly taken up the issue during its campaign. Rahul Gandhi has promised that if Congress comes to power in Assam, then it will do away with the implementation of the CAA. However, Assam BJP chief Ranjeet Kumar Dass has said that the party will soon implement the CAA if it is re-elected to office. He further claimed that the CAA is not an issue in the upcoming Assembly elections in the state as people will vote logically, not emotionally.

Attacking the ruling party, Congress leader Gaurav Gogoi said that BJP wants to trick people of Assam by showcasing that CAA is not an issue and thus they didn't mention it in their manifesto but they are confident to implement it in the state. Congress' election manifesto for Assam, makes "five guarantees" that included Rs 2,000 per month for every housewife and law to nullify the CAA. The party also promised to waive off farmers' agriculture debts, 5 lakh government jobs, 200 units of free electricity per month for all and increase the minimum wages of tea garden workers to Rs 365 per day.Releasing the Bharatiya Janata Party's manifesto ahead of the Assam Assembly polls, party National President JP Nadda made 10 commitments to help Assam take the next 'big leap' in the coming five years. The commitments of the party include providing three lakh jobs to the youth, financial support to namgarhs, and 'correct National Register of Citizens' for Assam's protection.

The NRC list for Assam is aimed at segregating Indian citizens living in the state from those, who illegally entered the state from Bangladesh. A total of 3,11,21,004 persons are found eligible for inclusion in the final NRC, leaving out 19,06,657 persons, including those who did not submit their claims. In 2016, the BJP scripted history and formed the government for the first time in the state ending Congress's 15-year rule. BJP and its allies Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodoland People's Front (BPF) won a combined 86 seats in the 126-member Assam Assembly. BJP bagged 60 seats, AGP 14, and BPF 12 seats.

This time the BPF has joined the Congress-led coalition 'Mahajath' after breaking away from the BJP-led alliance. Congress, which ran the state for three straight terms under the leadership of Tarun Gogoi, could manage to win only 26 seats in the 2016 polls. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, BJP won nine of the 14 parliamentary seats while its allies the AGP, and the BPF drew a blank. On the other hand, Congress bagged three seats, and the AIUDF and an independent won one seat each.

Assam is scheduled to go to polls in three phases with polls due on March 27, April 1 and April 6 for the 126 constituencies across 33,530 polling stations covering more than 2.33 crore electors.