Kokrajhar: A surrendered ULFA militant, a former governor, a powerful state minister and a sitting MP -- the electoral fight for Assam`s troubled Kokrajhar, a melting pot of conflicts between Bodos and non-Bodos, was never more intense and engrossing than this time.
Witness to a series of communal clashes in the last few years, including the Bodo-Muslim violence in 2012, people in the constituency are largely looking at the April 24 fight as a contest between Bodos and non-Bodos.
Seventy-seven people lost their lives in the two-month -long violence in 2012 between Bodos and Bengali-speaking Muslims which also left more than four lakh people homeless, forcing them to take shelter at about 270 relief camps.
Reflecting the ground realities, the campaign for the election has revolved around ethnic identities and issues like separate statehood for Bodos and demands for better security and protection for non-Bodos.
Surrendered ULFA `commander` Naba Kumar Sarania alias Hira, who has cases of kidnapping, ransom and criminal conspiracy pending against him, is contesting the polls as a consensus candidate of non-Bodo organisations and is confident of defeating sitting MP Sansuma Khunggur Bwismuthiary.
From 1998 to 2004, Bwismuthiary had won this ST reserved constituency as an Independent. In 2009, he emerged victorious representing the Bodoland Peoples` Front (BPF), an ally of the ruling Congress. This time, however, BPF offered the ticket to Transport and Tourism Minister Chandan Brahma, the sole representative of the party in the state cabinet.
A defiant Bwismuthiary has decided to contest as an Independent, posing a serious challenge to Chandan Brahma as the division of Bodo community votes may help Sarania.
In addition, the fielding of former Meghalaya Governor Ranjit Shekhar Mooshahary by Trinamool Congress is also likely to make the battle tough for Bwismuthiary and Brahma.
Entry of Mooshahary, a former BSF Director General who belongs to the Bodo community, into the electoral fray may further fragment votes of the dominant community.
The non-Bodos, including Koch Rajbongshi community, have been demanding a separate state as they feel benefits of all welfare schemes are being extended to Bodos only by the rulers of Bodo Territorial Council (BTC).
Sarania, who was `commander` of Ulfa`s 709th battalion, has been promising the non-Bodos that he will address their problems and ensure that they are not deprived of their legitimate rights.
For most of the residents, the spectre of large-scale Bodo -Muslim violence in 2012 is still afresh in their minds and the bitterness against BPF may be a major factor for non-Bodo people.
Former All Bodo Students Union president and Rajya Sabha MP Urkhao Gwra Brahma, contesting as an Independent, has been focusing his campaign on the demand for a separate Bodo state. It had become a major issue after the creation of Telangana.
Bwismuthiary had defeated Gwra Brahma by a margin of 1,90,322 votes in 2009. The sitting MP has been claiming that he is the most vocal proponent of a separate state and had even raised the issue in Parliament.
Another candidate in the fray is Independent Sabda Ram Rabha, a prominent advocate of the area, who was defeated by Bwismuthiary in 2004.
The Kokrajhar parliamentary constituency has 10 assembly segments spread over three districts of Kokrajhar, Barpeta and Baksa.
Eight assembly constituencies were won by BPF and one each had gone to BJP and AIUDF.
Most of the candidates were of the view that violence should be avoided at all costs but, at the same time, entry of illegal migrants from Bangladesh should be prevented.
The candidates are unanimous in their view that the displaced must be adequately rehabilitated but documents related to land, which appears to be the primary bone of contention between the two communities, should not be given without a proper survey.
Though militancy is on the wane in Kokrajhar, the Songbijit faction of NDFB has been carrying out violence in various areas.
The two dominant factions -- NDFB-Daimary and NDFB- Progressive -- have responded to the government`s call for settling their demands through negotiations while the NDFB-Songbijit group is yet to come to the talks table.