Patriarch returns to his first love, regionalism

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By PULLOCK DUTTA in Jorhat
  • Published 20.04.04
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Jorhat, April 20: Dulal Baruah’s name conjures up visions of a political chameleon, changing colours at the drop of a ballot.

Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) candidate for the Jorhat parliamentary seat, Baruah has indeed travelled the distance since founding the People’s Democratic Party, the first regional party in the Northeast, in the late sixties.

“I started with regionalism, where my heart has always been. And now I have returned to its fold,” Baruah says, justifying his latest party hopping from the BJP.

While his love for regionalism may be unadulterated, it also becomes rather evident that there was more than mere idealism that prompted Baruah to knock on its doors once again in what may perhaps be described as the political twilight of his life.

He said he had joined the BJP at the request of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who had invited him to Delhi and promised him a ticket or the presidentship of the party’s state unit. “But they did not keep either of the promises,” he added.

“The BJP has cheated me. The party dubbed me pro-Ulfa when I raised my voice against the killing of Assamese youths in Bhutan. The BJP bosses in Delhi always want their partymen in the Northeast to obey their diktat. They have neither respect nor any compassion for our views. And once you raise your voice, you are out,” Baruah said.

“But I was not born to be a puppet. I will always raise my voice for my people,” Baruah iterated.

Founder president of the All Assam Students’ Union and general secretary of the Post Graduate Students’ Union of Guwahati University, Baruah’s political career started soon after he left Guwahati University in 1962 when he won the Jorhat Assembly seat as an Independent candidate. Baruah retained the seat, once again as an Independent candidate, in 1967.

In this period he formed the People’s Democratic Party, along with tea planter Hemen Baruah and Bhupen Hazarika as members.

However, the party merged with Jayaprakash Narayan’s Janata Party, which was then creating waves in the country. “I was in jail for over 22 months at the time of Emergency and my followers joined the Janata Dal to keep the party alive,” he said. Baruah again won the Jorhat Assembly seat in 1978 as a Janata Dal candidate.

He served as public works department minister under Golap Borbora’s chief ministership. Baruah did not contest the 1983 elections but lost in the next contest two years later, when the state was swept by an AGP wave after the anti-foreigners movement in Assam. Baruah also lost the Jorhat seat in the 1996 elections.

Baruah said the AGP had asked him to join the party on numerous occasions but he had refused.

But Baruah could not spurn the BJP’s offer. It came at a time when he was frustrated, having lost several elections in a row.

He was given the party ticket for the Teok Assembly seat in the 2001 elections. But luck continued to elude the elderly politician. The arrangement of a friendly contest between the AGP and the BJP cost him dear as “friend” Renupama Rajkhowa walked away with the honours.

“I have realised, though belatedly, that the only way to serve your own people is by remaining with a regional party. Only a regional party can truly appreciate the feelings of the people of the region. The national parties are only concerned with numbers in Parliament — regional aspirations do not matter to them,” he said with a deep sigh.