Nagaon/Guwahati, Nov. 9: For all its apprehensions about intimidation and misuse of official machinery by the Congress, the Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF) today defeated the ruling party fair and square in a byelection that was fought in Jamunamukh but kicked up dust in Dispur.
Nobody was perhaps more disappointed with the result than chief minister Tarun Gogoi, who had given his all to this so-called “prestige fight”. The 13,167 votes that separated AUDF nominee Sirajuddin Ajmal and Congress candidate Khalilur Rahman Chaudhury did not quite reflect how close the contest between the parties was in the run-up to the byelection.
The AUDF described the outcome as a “victory of secular and democratic forces” and people’s rejection of the Congress’s “muscle and money power”.
“The Congress terrorised and intimidated voters but the electorate did not get cowed down. It is a victory of good over evil,” said AUDF president Badruddin Ajmal, who vacated the Jamunamukh seat and retained South Salmara after winning both in the Assembly elections earlier this year.
Party adviser Abdul Rashid Quasmi repeated the allegation about the Congress using “hardcore criminals” to threaten the electorate. “The Congress attempted to terrorise the voters through hardcore criminals like Pakhi Miyan (wanted for the murder of a senior revenue intelligence officer). Voters of Jamunamukh gave them a befitting answer.”
Formed just before the last Assembly elections, the AUDF’s victory means it will have 10 legislators in a House of 126.
State Congress president Bhubaneswar Kalita put up a brave front, pointing out that the party did improve on its previous performance in the minorities-dominated constituency. “In the Assembly elections, we polled only around 2,000 votes, while this time we got over 45,000 votes,” he said.
What he did not say was that the official Congress candidate did not file his nomination for the seat the last time, forcing the party to extend support to an Independent candidate at the last moment.
Senior Congress leader Abdul Jalil Ragibi, who was aspiring for the ticket this time, said the party’s strategy was all wrong. He said the failure of the party leadership to find “an acceptable candidate”, bickering for tickets among some Congress leaders and the use of government forces and a “misdirected street play misrepresenting Islam” during the campaign were the main causes for the defeat.
The Congress had taken an early lead when counting started at the Hojai civil SDO’s office in Sankardeva Nagar at 8 am. It slipped behind by the fifth round of counting and the trend was not reversed.
Of the 1,08,542 votes polled in the constituency, Sirajuddin Ajmal secured 58,210 while Chaudhury got 45,043 votes. The other eight candidates in the fray forfeited their security deposits. The Asom Gana Parishad candidate, Habib Ali, polled a mere 1,104 votes.
The AGP leadership blamed Chaudhury for its poor performance. He was the party’s candidate in the Assembly elections but switched allegiance to the Congress before the bypoll.
“We had reposed faith in him. He deceived us even after we decided to renominate him,” Atul Medhi, general secretary of the AGP’s Nagaon unit, said.