The Telegraph
Saturday , April 5 , 2014
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Dibrugarh feels ripples of Satpal party switch

The ashram of Satpal Maharaj in Tinsukia. Telegraph picture

Tinsukia, April 4: It may come as a surprise but the impact of Congress MP Satpal Maharaj, a spiritual leader in Chhattisgarh, joining the BJP might be felt thousands of miles away in Assam’s Dibrugarh Lok Sabha constituency.

Satpal Maharaj, an MP from Uttarakhand’s Pauri constituency, is the founder of Manav Utthan Sewa Samiti, an organisation disseminating spiritual knowledge based on the Gita and the Ramayana.

Over the past few years, his organisation has made deep inroads into many tea gardens in Tinsukia and Dibrugarh districts that fall under Dibrugarh Lok Sabha constituency, which is likely to witness a close contest between the Congress and the BJP.

And with Satpal Maharaj switching sides, there is a strong possibility that his shishyas (disciples) and devotees in the two districts may also switch their allegiance to the BJP.

The Congress has fielded its MP and DoNER minister Paban Singh Ghatowar while the BJP has given its ticket to former Duliajan MLA Rameshwar Teli in Dibrugarh. The other candidate in the fray is AGP’s Anup Phukan, a former MLA from Tingkhong.

Before every election, political parties spare no effort to woo the tea tribes in Dibrugarh constituency, since there are around 3.6 lakh voters from the community in the area, comprising 30 per cent of the electorate — a factor big enough to sway the poll results.

Hence, both the Congress and the BJP have fielded two prominent leaders from the community as their candidates for the Dibrugarh seat, which has the highest number of tea gardens in any constituency in Assam.

Satpal Maharaj’s organisation has branches in 33 tea gardens in Tinsukia district and seven gardens in Dibrugarh district.

“Though the Samiti is an apolitical body, Satpalji joining the BJP will definitely make the party more acceptable to his disciples,” said Ram Kusha Tanti, a worker of the Rajgarh division of Bazaloni tea estate in Tinsukia district.

Tanti is also the pradhan (chief) of the Rajgarh Sabha of Manav Dharam Sadbhavna Sammelan, a unit of Manav Utthan Sewa Samiti, which organises satsangs (religious gatherings) in the gardens.

Tea gardens are known to be traditional stronghold for the Congress but in the last few years the BJP has made substantial inroads.

“Satpalji commands a huge following. More than 60,000 people attended a function organised during his visit to Tinsukia in January this year. Even Ghatowar and Tinsukia Congress MLA, Rajendra Singh, attended the function,” Mahindra Rai, a follower of Satpal Maharaj, said.

Come April 7, it will be clear how much Satpal Maharaj’s following translates into votes for the BJP.