Assam wants peace, and Gogoi

Tarun Gogoi has returned to power in Assam for the third consecutive term.

Deepak Nagpal

Tarun Gogoi has achieved what very few Congress chief ministers could. He has returned to power in Assam for the third consecutive term, replicating only Sheila Dikshit’s success at the power centre, Delhi.

And on the expected lines, Gogoi has credited development and peace in the state to his success. Like in most other states that went to polls in recent memory, people in Assam too chose promise for development over other political dole outs.

With a vote share of 41%, a 10% jump from last elections, Congress clearly was people’s number one choice. The leading opposition party in the state, Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) was a distant second being the choice of just 18% of the electorate. BJP, on the other hand, could muster only 11% votes.

The recent peace talks initiated with the insurgent group, ULFA seem to have worked in favour of the Congress. While the talks have yet to see any concrete results, the coming to the negotiating table of non-Paresh Baruah faction itself was seen as a positive step by the people of the state.

The Centre as well as the state government’s efforts to first seek the extradition of arrested top ULFA leaders from Bangladesh, and then their subsequent release to push the peace process forward seems to have yielded positive results for the Gogoi government. A substantial increase of over 20 seats in Congress’ kitty makes amply clear the people’s mood.

In the party manifesto, Gogoi had made his roadmap clear: contain insurgency through development.

As soon as the picture became clear that he was returning to power, Gogoi reiterated his commitment to economic development and peace, underlining he would not dump the two factors that have won him a third straight term.

Knowing well the burden of expectations would be much more this time, Gogoi sought to assure his people by listing economic development, education, employment generation, and health care as his top priorities, apart from peace.

The BJP’s main poll plank, illegal immigration from Bangladesh, seems to have become a dead issue in Assam as the party has lost almost half the seats it won in 2006.

With victory in bag, Gogoi was quick to dismiss the once-an-important-issue as "largely exaggerated", underlining "Assam is a disturbed area” is just an “outside perception”.

The Gogoi government had been on a sticky wicket for the past one year in the wake of alleged involvement in many scams, including the most talked about multi-crore North Cachar Hill scam.

However, the electorate in Assam seems to have ignored every such allegation. A 10 percent jump in Congress’ vote share proves that.

More than the Congress as a party, experts believe it is the magic of Gogoi that seems to have worked in Assam.

Bringing several insurgent groups, including the ULFA, to the negotiating table, rescuing the state from the brink of bankruptcy, have all helped Gogoi earn the faith of the people.

People of Assam would still remember that when Gogoi had first taken over as the CM on May 17, 2001, from the AGP, his government had a multitude of serious challenges at its hands – the morass of militant violence and financial instability characterised by a huge debt burden. In fact, the financial mess was so deep that that the state had stopped paying the salaries of government employees on time.

Another reason for Congress victory could be attributed to the fact that the opposition in northeastern state is largely fractured. While Congress fought the elections having a pre-poll alliance with the Bodoland People`s Front (BPF), the opposition AGP, BJP and the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) fought the battle separately.

Even if the AGP and BJP had fought the elections together, their combined vote share too would have proved insufficient to dent Congress’ chances. Congress, on the other hand, always had BPF to come to its rescue.

The Congress had even sought support from the AIUDF, led by perfume baron Badaruddin Ajmal and which boasts of a large Muslim voter base, in case it fell short of the required numbers to form the government. The AIUDF, on the other hand, kept its cards close to its chest but hinted it would back the AGP in case the latter was in a position to form the government. Badaruddin Ajmal had apparently not forgotten Gogoi’s barb at him in the run-up to 2006 polls when he had asked, “Who is Badaruddin Ajmal?”

The AIUDF today won 17 seats but with the Congress securing a majority, Gogoi must be sitting in his office wondering, “Who is Badaruddin Ajmal?”

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