Being a Saikia

Will Nazira vote for a 35-year-old legacy or choose a young leader to take it forward? Smita Bhattacharyya tries to find an answer

  • Published 22.03.16
The Oguri bridge, which was constructed during Debabrata Saikia’s term. Telegraph picture

Nazira, a sleepy semi-urban township in Sivasagar district, which gave Assam a two-time Congress chief minister, late Hiteswar Saikia, way back in the early eighties and again in the early nineties, still seems to be in a kind of time warp.

Saikia, or should we say, his 35-year-old legacy, overshadows most things political here. Such had been his connect with the locals that even his MLA son, Debabrata, a green horn to politics five years ago and who is seeking re-election this time round on the development plank, is compared with his father.

One gets to hear a lot of things about him while discussing poll-bound Nazira, which houses the headquarters of ONGC Assam Asset and big gardens, the mainstays of the local economy.

Apart from providing jobs to many, Saikia improved schools and colleges, got Nazira declared into a subdivision, set up a 100-bed hospital and the first TV centre, admirers of Saikia, cutting across the political divide, say about one of the men who kept the Congress going during the heady days of the Assam Agitation.

Shyamal Hatikakoty of Nazira town, an avowed BJP supporter, said, “I have great respect for Saikia sir. Had he been here today he would have had my support. He gave us everything that a chief minister could give his constituency. After he died in 1996, Assam turned its back on Nazira.”

He, however, said after senior Saikia died, his wife Hemo Prova nor his son Debabrata had been able to live up to expectations. “His son is trying to carry forward his legacy but there was something different about Saikia sir,” he said.

Saikia never lost an election, five times in all, since 1972.

What made him tick?

Dulakakharia bridge. Telegraph picture

An old Congress hand said the admiration has a lot to do with Saikia’s people connect.

“Apart from what he did for Nazira, Saikia sir must have benefited at least one person from a family in his constituency, something which is difficult to match,” he said.

Debabrata, back from a round of hectic campaigning, tells The Telegraph, “It feels nice to know people even after so many years think so highly about my father, who was a visionary. I am trying my best, trying to do whatever I can.”

Admiration for Saikia does not mean a smooth ride for his successor. His younger brother had lost, so had his widow, even by a few hundred votes. Debabrata won big on his debut in 2011 but even he had to trail, by over a thousand votes, in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. With the BJP joining hands with the AGP, the electoral battle has become tougher for the Congress but, according to Congressmen, there is “more than hope” when a Saikia is in the fray.

Like Debabrata, whose supporters say has tried to do his best to take forward his father’s legacy, debutant Prahlad Gowala, too, has his backers, especially in the tea belt that comprises about 38 per cent of the electorate. While the older generation might go with the Congress, the youth are looking forward to a young leader taking over the reins.
It is in this background, the Congress (Debabrata) and BJP’s Gowala, (a former AATSA president) are contesting one of the prestigious Assembly seats in Assam. CPI candidate Kanak Gogoi, a protégé of veteran CPI leader and one-time MP (Rajya Sabha) and Nazira MLA Drupad Borgohain, is the other key contender in the keen electoral contest here on April 4.