The five Lok Sabha constituencies in Upper Assam, which are scheduled go to the polls tomorrow, are likely to throw up many surprises as many traditional vote banks may be dented owing to the change in the political equations.
And the seats include Lakhimpur, Dibrugarh, Jorhat, Tezpur and Koliabor in the state’s North-East. It was the Congress candidates who emerged victorious in four of these seats in 2009.
Despite the region’s track record as a Congress bastion, the party is confident of retaining only Koliabor, where Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s son Gaurav Gogoi is seeking the mandate. Earlier, the seat was held by Tarun, who won from Koliabor in 1998 and 1999. Later, it was his brother Dip Gogoi, who triumphed there in 2004 and in 2009.
The other four constituencies-- considered the state’s ‘tea belt’--are mainly inhabited by the tribals and caste Hindus, besides the tea garden workers, who are called the ‘tea tribe’ locally. In fact, the ‘tea tribe’ and tribals had always stood by the Congress. But this time round, the ground situation has changed as there has been a massive erosion in the Congress vote bank among the ‘tea tribes’ as well as the tribals, coupled with the factionalism in the party ranks.
Moreover, the caste Hindu Assamese, who were the main vote bank of the AGP, has gravitated to the BJP. In Lakhimpur, the BJP has fielded Sarbananda Sonowal, a former All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) chief and MP, who had won from Dibrugarh on an AGP ticket in 2004. The constituency has 22 per cent of Mishing tribal votes, which will prove a decisive factor since Sonowal is a Kachari tribal.
The Congress’ sitting MP Ranee Narah, who had been elected thrice, is facing a losing battle,with the five Congress MLAs in her constituency incurring the wrath of the locals over their alleged failure to address the demands of the public.
Union Minister for Development of North-East region Paban Singh Ghatowar, who is the Congress candidate in Dibrugarh, had been a trade unionist in the tea gardens for decades,with a good image in the tea garden belt. However, he is facing a tough fight from BJP’s Rameshwar Teli, a former MLA, who is a member of the tea tribe and hence enjoys their support.He will also get the votes of caste Hindu Assamese, who favour the BJP.
In neighbouring Jorhat also, the tea garden workers will decide the fate of the contestants. Bejoy Handique,Congress candidate and former Union minister, who had been elected six times from this seat, is finding it hard to garner support. His main opponent is Kamkhya Prasad Tasa of the BJP. A member of the ‘tea tribe’, Tasa had lost the 2009 LS polls by a margin of 70,000 votes. However, he is likely to turn the tables this time as the tea garden workers are unhappy with the policies of the Congress Government in the state.
The contest in Tezpur seat is interesting. And sitting AGP MP Joseph Toppo does not seem to be anywhere in the contest, which will mainly be between Bhupen Borah of the Congress and Ram Prasad Sharma of the BJP. Also, in the fray is three-time Congress MP Moni Subba,who is contesting as an independent. Even though he is the richest candidate in Assam, Subba has been denied nomination as he is facing murder and rape charges.