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The inspiring survivor

He has donned every major mantle in contemporary Assam politics — student leader, party president, chief minister and Opposition leader.

He has survived a major scam, a major scandal and even an attempt on his life besides the ignominy of being ousted as AGP president only to return to its fold as the Opposition leader last year.

That’s Prafulla Kumar Mahanta — a man whose script of life is enough to keep even an uninitiated riveted.

And he is not done yet.

The leader took even the ouster as a challenge and floated the AGP (Pragitisheel). For the AGP, it was a dog in the manger, a part that couldn’t win, but wouldn’t let the AGP win.

Today, he is being widely seen as a gamechanger of Elections 2011 for the AGP, which was floundering till the party leadership felt they can utilise his services to plot its return to power. This also has to do with the fact that he has been a key player in all the state elections since 1985.

Party insiders say he has played a key role in candidate selection, ensuring nominations for most of his loyalists, is using his vast network within and outside the party to mobilise funds and manpower and has people believe that the AGP can once again unseat the well-entrenched Congress. Partymen don’t forget to add that he has matured as a politician and is displaying a lot of flexibility than his stints as chief minister twice.

He is said to be giving his all, hopping from one poll rally to another in company of party president Chandra Mohan Patowary despite being the only candidate to contest from two constituencies (Barhampur and Samaguri) in these polls on “public” demand. As the party’s star campaigners, the two did the rounds of Upper Assam and north bank in a chopper for the first phase together.

“Mahanta joining the leadership appears to have only strengthened the party. Those who were with Mahanta in Pragitisheel are now actively working to ensure it does well. Together with Patowary, he has been able to project a united face. His vast network will only work in favour of the party. That he is contesting from two constituencies also suggests that the party is behind him. The initial opposition by the AASU, too, is not there now. His acceptability is rising. All these things suggest that he is someone who can turn the tide,” says Bedabarata Sakia of Handique Girls College.

The importance of having Mahanta was felt by the response he received during the warming up Jana Jagaran and Jana Sanjog rallies where local leaders made a beeline to meet him much to the anguish of other senior leaders.

“That is the kind of impact he has even when he is not leading the party. He is more matured and acceptable today than when he was ousted from the party. If we do well a lot of credit will go to him and he could be a frontrunner for chief ministership,” a party leader said.

A man of few words, Mahanta told The Telegraph that the people want change and everyone is working towards the goal of getting the AGP back in power.

“There is nothing personal here, it is all about Assam and its interests. Our position is improving by the day,” he said when asked what the ensuing polls meant to him.

That he is a political force to be reckoned with is also borne out by the fact that the ruling Congress has specially targeted him this past 10 years more than other AGP leaders. They keep harping on his alleged involvement in secret killings, the LoC scam and of emptying the government’s coffer.

However, the sting of the first two allegations seem to be wearing off as no inquiry has ever managed to nail him, while the current robust financial health of the state, he points out, is actually a result of steps initiated by his government.

Congress leaders, too, reluctantly acknowledge that Mahanta has changed the equation. “We are winning because Mahanta had pushed the state to the brink as chief minister. But you cannot take him lightly given his vast experience and networking. He is a great survivor. We were cruising along nicely till he arrived as the Opposition leader last year,” a seasoned Congress hand said.

For better or worse, Mahanta is a man who never ceases to amaze you. These elections — and their outcome on May 13 — could add another interesting chapter to Assam’s political history.

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