The Congress and the AIUDF on Wednesday unanimously named senior journalist Ajit Bhuyan as their Rajya Sabha candidate from Assam.
Elections to the three Rajya Sabha seats, which will fall vacant on April 9, are scheduled for March 26.
Bhuyan, known for his vocal stand against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), was nominated as a neutral candidate by the Opposition. His long experience in public life as a journalist and an intellectual espousing regional interests also worked in his favour.
His nomination is significant because it has brought the AIUDF and the Congress close despite opposition from within for any alliance with each other. The anti-CAA movement is the glue which could see the two working together in the Assembly polls too, Congress insiders said.
The Congress sources said there were several candidates in the running, including party spokesperson Durga Das Boro, vice-president Bishnu Prasad, All India Mahila Congress president Sushmita Dev, advocate Santanu Borthakur and Sikhar Sarma, a Guwahati-based professor.
In the 126-member Assembly, the BJP and its allies have 86 seats — BJP (60), AGP (14) and BPF (12) — and the support of an Independent, which is enough to win two seats. The AIUDF (14) and the Congress (23) hope to win the third seat, everything remaining equal. To win a seat in a House of 124 (two seats are vacant), a candidate will need 32 votes.
PCC president Ripun Bora told reporters in Delhi on Wednesday, “Since neither the Congress nor the AIUDF has the numbers to win the seat on their own, we decided to support Bhuyan. Both the parties wanted a neutral, secular candidate who can take the anti-CAA movement forward.” AIUDF leader Hafiz Bashir Ahmed Kasimi said the party decided to support Bhuyan as he has been one of the prominent voices against the CAA and BJP’s “politics of communal polarisation”. The AIUDF had earlier proposed the name of Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi as the common candidate.
Bora, when asked about his reaction to senior cabinet minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s remark that the ruling alliance may go for a third candidate, appeared confident about the Opposition candidate sailing through. Congress Legislature Party leader Debabrata Saikia urged the AGP to vote for Bhuyan and prove its anti-CAA stand.
Bhuyan said, “I am happy to get the opportunity. Since I have been raising my voice against the CAA and violation of Assam Accord, I am sure that if I win, I can raise the concern of our people over CAA inside Parliament.”
Reacting to Bhuyan’s selection, Sarma said, “It is clear that many of the intellectuals were actually involved in the anti-CAA agitation for a Rajya Sabha seat. They didn’t have any logic to counter the CAA.”
Prabajan Virodhi Manch, an anti-influx group led by Supreme Court lawyer Upamanyu Hazarika, also criticised Bhuyan. “When he dresses up his candidature as representative of the sentiments and interests of the indigenous people, it turns into hypocrisy as his candidature is sponsored by the Congress and the AIUDF. Bhuyan’s claim that he is representing indigenous interests and sentiments is hypocritical and self-serving,” Hazarika said.
Additional reporting by our special correspondent