| AGP candidate Birendra Prasad Baishya at an election campaign in Tepchia under Boko Assembly constituency on Thursday. Picture by UB Photos |
The most vocal MP from Assam in the Rajya Sabha — not Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — has become a former member.
Birendra Prasad Baishya, 57, of the AGP retired from Parliament on April 9. But his supporters hope he will return to the 16th Lok Sabha and salvage the waning fortunes of the AGP. He is contesting the Gauhati Lok Sabha seat against Manash Bora of the Congress and sitting BJP MP Bijoya Chakravarty besides 15 others, including an AIUDF candidate.
The AGP MP had an inimitable style with a perfectly trimmed beard, a smile and a voice that even Congress MPs grudgingly concede was perhaps the loudest one for the state and the Northeast. The Prime Minister is the best-known MP from Assam in the Upper House but by virtue of his office hardly a representative for the state or the Northeast.
“Saar, saar,” Baishya would shout, single-handedly holding back proceedings if he felt strongly that the region’s voice was not being heard.
No sooner would these words be heard in the Upper House than the “Sir”, chairman Hamid Ansari, would know that he would have to give in to the crusader.
Even today in Assam, while his party suffered a setback in the absence of an alliance with the BJP and defections, the AGP general secretary continues to be a popular face in the current elections.
“We will do well as people across caste and religion are responding,” Baishya said over phone on a Sunday while campaigning. “Today I addressed seven rallies and yesterday at Goroimari (in Kamrup district) there were 20,000 people from the minority community,” he said.
Ravishankar Prasad of the BJP had recently claimed that the AGP was “finished” in Assam and the BJP would do better. The BJP may indeed be turning into a force to reckon with in the northeastern state, but with leaders like Baishya it may be Congress candidates like Bora who could walk away victorious. This fact had not escaped Chakravarty who was a strong supporter for an AGP-BJP tie-up considering that some of the minority support could have flowed to the alliance because of the AGP’s base. Eventually, a confident local BJP leadership refused to go with the AGP and both parties went their separate ways.
The AGP’s support base has gone down but pockets of fiercely loyal voters compel other parties to not count out the party’s impact.
Caste Assamese voters in remote areas of Upper Assam conceded during this correspondent’s recent visit that they thought Baishya’s was the only voice from Assam in Parliament. In Jorhat, they referred to Baishya by comparing him to the dismal participation of former DoNER minister Bijoy Krishna Handique.
Baishya had a partner in fellow MP Kumar Deepak Das who would also speak in Rajya Sabha but Das retired last year leaving Baishya alone to defend his party’s pet issues.
It was Baishya who got the Trinamul Congress on board to oppose introduction of the constitutional amendment to ratify the Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh. He even got the Biju Janata Dal MPs to support him in his opposition to the bill. AGP was opposed to the bill, arguing it went against the interest of Assam, as the state’s land would be given away.
The former teacher more than made up in voice for the silence of MPs from the state and region, most of who are from the Congress. With reports about high incidence of cancer in the Northeast, particularly in Mizoram, Baishya can point to his many interventions for a special train for cancer patients from Guwahati to Mumbai.