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Veteran versus firebrand

Bijoy Krishna Handique hits the campaign trail in Sonari

Will political history repeat itself or be changed in the forthcoming polls for the Jorhat Lok Sabha seat — spread over two districts Jorhat and Sivasagar — both capitals of the Ahom monarchy once?

Altogether 14,47,000 voters from this constituency of Upper Assam, dotted by tea gardens in the foothills along the Assam-Nagaland border on one side and the mighty Brahmaputra flowing on the other, will decide the fate of the 10 candidates on April 7.

The tea workers in about 200 gardens play a key role in the polls, as traditionally gardens have been a big votary of the Congress.

For Bijoy Krishna Handique, former Union minister and Congress candidate, winning seems to have become a habit as the octogenarian leader has been retaining the seat since 1991 and is seeking his seventh term.

BJP candidate Kamakhya Prasad Tasa submits his nomination papers. Pictures by UB Photos

The challenge to change the political landscape of the Jorhat seat has come from the firebrand BJP youth leader Kamakhya Prasad Tasa, who tried to unseat Handique in 2009 but did not succeed, with Handique winning by 71,000 votes.

Though there are nine other candidates in the fray, the veteran Congress leader thinks that the fight will be between him and Tasa. Handique is confident of scripting another victory and steadily carrying out his campaign across the constituency spread over six Assembly constituencies in Sivasagar district and four in Jorhat district.

He is not wary of any Narendra Modi wave. He says the so-called Modi wave is actually hype and hoopla the BJP was creating in order to ride piggyback on one person and that the party had nothing to boast of during the BJP-led NDA’s term at the Centre.

He said development carried out by the Congress-led government at the Centre in the last two terms and in the state in the past 13 years is the plank on which he is asking for votes. Handique said schemes like MGNREGA and various self-employment schemes of the Centre have benefited a large number of people.

The veteran said he was involved in bringing many big projects for the state like the gas cracker project in Dibrugarh which was nearing completion, the branch of Rajiv Gandhi Petroleum Institute being set up at Sivasagar (foundation stone laid by Prime Minister), a cultural complex named after Joymati, wife of Ahom prince Gadapani (the paperwork of the project was under way), sanctioning of the Rs 50-crore drinking water scheme under which water will be brought from the Brahmaputra to Jorhat town.

Handique said the anti-erosion Neemati-Hatihal project, which had protected Jorhat town from the Brahmaputra for past several years, was the result of his effort. He admitted another project has to be initiated as the Brahmaputra has damaged a portion of the scheme.

Brushing aside the charge of not speaking in Parliament, Handique said it is a “baseless propaganda” against him. He said that he asked 260 questions and participated in 131 debates in Parliament and had brought up problems like floods and erosion for discussion time and again.

“From 2004 to 2011, I was a minister and as a minister I had to reply to questions of other members,” the outgoing MP said.

Tasa, a former president of the influential Assam Tea Tribes’ Students’ Association, is confident of tasting victory in his third attempt to enter the Lok Sabha. Tasa had contested the 2004 polls from Dibrugarh and is said to be responsible for the defeat of Congress stalwart Paban Singh Ghatowar, who lost to the then AGP candidate Sarbananda Sonowal.

“People are fed up with the Congress governments at the Centre and in the state with large-scale corruption in every sphere. Scams have become the order of the day followed by prices of essentials registering a steep climb,” the BJP candidate said.

Alleging that Tarun Gogoi was leading a false propaganda of ushering in development in Assam, Tasa challenged Gogoi and Handique to jointly visit areas with BJP members to show them what development works they meant, as such visits would puncture Congress claims.

He added there was a nationwide wave for Narendra Modi for parivartan (change) and Assam too was witnessing the same. After having sent Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from the state, people had felt “abandoned” as there was no effort by Singh to attend to the burning problems.

Among other members in the fray, Dhrupad Borgohain of the CPI, a former Rajya Sabha member and a former Nazira MLA, is trying his luck for the third time.

Pradip Hazarika, a former minister and a former MLA of Amguri (Assembly seat in Sivasagar district), is making a debut attempt for the Lower House.

Manoram Gogoi, the AAP candidate, is a former journalist, who, is testing the waters and hoping to cash in on the AAP wave that surprised one and all in the Delhi polls. Ribuloya Gogoi of the All India Trinamul Congress is the only woman candidate for the seat.

Another party that has made its debut in Jorhat is the AIUDF, which is fielding Nasir Ahmed, who hopes of making his way by eating into Congress votes and from other parties on the “goodwill” of the party.

Will anyone manage to steal the show from Handique or will the veteran Congress leader carry on the show? one has to keep ones fingers crossed till May 16!


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