GUWAHATI: Six-time Assam Congress MP, Biren Singh Engti, has a mountain to climb as he braces for April 18 second phase Parliamentary elections to Autonomous District (Diphu) constituency.
Among factors, the 74-year-old Engti, the state’s oldest Congress candidate, is faced with a strong anti-incumbency wave.
When the Congress launched the poll campaign last month, the party was seen trying to scare the voters into believing that if the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, is passed, it will threaten the existence of the Assamese and other indigenous communities. It was a major poll issue in the five constituencies of Kaliabor, Jorhat, Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur and Tezpur in Central, Upper and Northern Assam which went to polls in the first phase.
However, the Bill had little impact in the tribal-majority Diphu seat which is protected under the Sixth Schedule of Constitution. People here have been for long demanding for the creation of an “autonomous state”. No wonder, it is the main issue even this election.
The constituency is made up of the twin hill districts of Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao. The Karbis are in a large majority in Karbi Anglong and the Dimasas in Dima Hasao. The Parliamentary constituency has five Assembly segments, four of them in Karbi Anglong and one in Dima Hasao.
All the five Assembly seats are currently held by the BJP. The party is also in power in the two autonomous councils in Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao. The BJP’s juggernaut in the region has made the task of the Congress candidate difficult.
The law graduate Engti was first elected to Parliament in 1972. He went on to retain the seat in the next two elections but lost the subsequent three elections. After a gap of 14 years from 1990, he was elected to the Parliament for the fourth time in 2004. He had won in the 2009 and 2014 elections as well.
Two political parties such as CPI-ML and Hill State Demand Committee, besides some local organisations, on Friday lent their support to the Congress. They were miffed over some issues including Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.
Engti usually does not talk much. According to a recent report, he did not place a single question in the Parliament in the last five years. However, with the polls just days away, he is not just talking but travelling too, extensively.
“The BJP is a communal party. Remember the promises PM Narendra Modi had made ahead of 2014 elections. He couldn’t fulfil any of them,” Engti told a crowd, adding, “Haren Singh Bey is responsible for the ethnic clashes of 2005 in Karbi Anglong in which many lives were lost. The BJP has fielded this murder accused in the polls as they don’t have a good candidate,” he said.
Bey was a leader of an insurgent group when the clashes between the Karbis and the Dimasas broke out.
Local writer Sushanta Roy says Engti is facing the toughest challenge of his life.
“In the past four years or so, it has been a trend here that BJP wins. The two autonomous councils and the five Assembly seats are with the BJP. So, it will be very difficult for him to retain this Parliamentary seat,” Roy said.