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Surprise and shock at loss in tea towns

(Top) Rameshwar Teli who won the Dibrugarh seat and Kamakhya Prasad Tasa who won the Jorhat seat, greet supporters on Friday. Pictures by UB Photos

Jorhat, May 16: The defeat of the Congress in two of its citadels in Upper Assam — Jorhat and Dibrugarh Lok Sabha seats — where tea tribes play a prominent role has come as a “surprise and shock” to the party.

Interestingly, in both the seats wrested by the BJP the candidates are from the tea tribes with Rameshwar Teli trouncing incumbent MP Paban Singh Ghatowar, who was DoNER minister in the outgoing UPA II government.

Ghatowar is a veteran leader Congress leader from the tea tribes community, was also a minister at the P.V. Narashima Rao government and had headed influential Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS) for over two decades and at present its adviser. The ACMS, with its central office at Dibrugarh, is the largest and oldest union of the tea garden workers in the state and offers assistance to the Congress during polls.

The loss of Dibrugarh seat by the Congress is the second time for the party since first Lok Sabha polls with Ghatowar losing the seat in 2004 to Sarabananda Sonowal, who was then AGP candidate and present BJP Assam unit president. Sonowal this time defeated outgoing Union minister Ranee Narah from Lakhimpur.

In the Jorhat seat, former two-time Union minister Bijoy Krishna Handique was routed by Kamakhya Prasad Tasa (BJP), a former general secretary of the Assam Tea Tribes Students’ Association (ATTSA), who in 2009 failed to unseat Handique. The Jorhat seat has been represented by Handique for six times since 1991.

Tasa in 2004 had contested from Dibrugarh as a BJP candidate against Ghatowar and had eaten away a major chunk of the Congress votes leading to Ghatowar’s defeat to Sonowal.

AICC secretary Rana Goswami, who is also the Jorhat MLA, told The Telegraph this evening that the party is not only “surprised but shocked” on the loss of the two seats as both were strong bastions of the party.

“We have to sit back and look what went wrong. We have to introspect and reorganise the party and prepare it for the Assam Assembly polls slated for 2016,” Goswami said.

He admitted that there was some impact of the massive campaign unleashed under the brand Narendra Modi by the BJP nationwide using high-tech tools and the social media extensively. The central Congress leader said that party had witnessed “ups and downs many times” like in 1977 across the country and in 1985 in Assam and most recently in Delhi last year where an Arvind Kejriwal wave had swept and ended three terms of Congress rule. He said he was confident the party would bounce back in the future.

ATTSA president Prahlad Gowala said the loss of two seats by the Congress is a “clear message” to the Congress not to take the tea tribes for granted.

Gowala said though for decades the tea workers’ community had been voting for the Congress at the state and at the Centre, nothing much had changed in their lives with the community remaining untouched from fruits of development.

“We had indirectly opposed the Congress in the elections this time by telling people in the estates of the failures of the state and the central governments in fulfilling its promises towards the tea community, which was people realised especially by the upcoming generation,” the ATTSA leader said.

He cautioned the BJP saying if they (BJP) did not deliver on their assurances then a similar fate like that of the Congress would befall the BJP.

ACMS general secretary Dileshwar Tanti, a former Congress MLA, in his reaction, admitted that the “Modi wave” had an impact in the tea belt. Tanti said the performance of the state and central governments with regards to the tea workers’ community, too, might have failed to impress the people, which needs to be examined.

He said the organisation would analyse the loss in the tea belt and revamp it to get back the foothold the ACMS had on the gardens and the workers.

Reacting to the win, Tasa said the people were “fed up with largescale corruption and misgovernance” happening under the Congress rule in the state and also at the Centre, and so they had voted for parivartan (change). He said people of Jorhat, too, were deprived of development since 1991 as the Congress has been retaining it through one person.

Rameshwar Teli in his reaction after victory said he would take up the matter of unfinished national projects like Bogibeel and gas cracker. “It is my primary duty now to work for the overall development of the region. Dibrugarh as we know is rich in terms of resources but has remain unutilised,” Teli said.