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regular-article-logo Sunday, 26 May 2024

Assam polls: Congress suffers setback as tea leader joins BJP

A reason for Rupesh Gowala leaving the party was the denial of the Doomdooma seat, though PCC insiders said he was offered other seats

Umanand Jaiswal Guwahati Published 07.03.21, 01:35 AM

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The Congress’ ongoing efforts to reach out to the tea tribes before the polls in Assam suffered a setback with Rupesh Gowala, the general secretary of the influential Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha, joining the ruling BJP here on Saturday afternoon.

ACMS is the apex body of tea workers in Assam affiliated to the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC). It has over eight lakh members. It participates in talks with the government and the management over daily wage and other welfare issues of the workforce.

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The BJP will field Gowala from Doomdooma constituency in Upper Assam in the upcoming Assembly polls, at present held by Congress’ Durga Bhumij.

A reason for Gowala leaving the Congress was the denial of the Doomdooma seat, though PCC insiders said he was offered other seats.

Gowala became the ACMS general secretary in 2018 but has been associated with it since 2005 as its Doomdooma branch secretary.

The Congress is expected to release its candidates’ list by Sunday. The BJP released its list of 70 candidates on Friday night along with its seat-sharing deal with its three allies.

Gowala’s joining was kind of a coup effected by the ruling party which has been actively wooing the tea community and its leaders since 2014.

The tea community, which plays a decisive role in as many as 42 of the 126 Assembly seats in the state, has been a key factor in the BJP’s surge in Upper and Central Assam in the 2016 Assembly and 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

The Congress too has started reaching out to the community of late.

Senior party leaders —Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi — during their recent visit to the state to mobilise support for the Opposition Congress have gone all out to woo the community by tapping into the “unfulfilled” promises the BJP made for the welfare of the tea community.

While Rahul announced Rs 365 as daily minimum wage for a garden worker, Priyanka turned it into one of the party’s five guarantees for the community if the party is voted to power.

She also guaranteed a sum of Rs 2000 a month to all housewives, a step triggered by her visit to a tea garden in Biswanath district to understand the problems faced by the garden workers, especially the women.

However, the 42-year-old Gowala’s joining the BJP is set to undermine its reach-out efforts. “I was attracted by the BJP’s development agenda. Moreover, there is too much confusion in the Congress. Its alliance with the AIUDF has also not gone down well in Upper Assam. More from Doomdooma constituency will be joining the party,” he said.

Congress insiders said Gowala’s departure will have an impact on the party’s prospects in the polls but more worrisome is the party’s inability to groom and retain young leaders.

“He was an emerging face from the tea community which sadly has no face that can engage with the community at a macro level. The party leadership needs to think beyond veteran tea community leaders,” one of the party insiders said.

Saturday also saw the Congress having a tough time in dealing with reports about Mahila Congress president Sushmita Dev resigning from the party following differences over seat-sharing with ally AIUDF and candidate selection in Barak Valley.

However, Dev told The Telegraph that she had taken up the issue of seat-sharing with PCC president Ripun Bora but everything was well between her and the party.

“All these are rumours. I have already conveyed my position to our senior leader Randeep Surjewala and PCC media department chief Bobbeeta Sharma. All is well,” she said. ‘

Both Surjewala and Sharma havce termed the reports of her resignation baseless.

When asked whether she was joining the BJP at a rally in Bengal to be addressed by prime minister Narendra Modi on Sunday, she said, “ It is a lie.”

Apart from Gowala, the ruling BJP received another boost with former Asom Sahitya Sabha president Dr Paramananda Rajbongshi joining the party in the same function attended by state BJP chief Ranjeet Kumar Dass.

Rajbongshi, who resigned from the AGP on Friday, will be fielded ftom the Sipajhar constituency.

AGP is an ally of the BJP and will be contesting 26 seats in the three-phased polls to be held on March 27, April 1 and April 6.

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