(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
April 17, 2011
Hung Assembly in Offing
nearly six weeks of hectic political activities and electioneering,
were finally drawn on polls in
Now the fate of 981 candidates are sealed in the EVMs which would be opened on May 13. Of the candidates, only 85 are female, with males accounting for an overwhelming 896.
Party-wise, the ruling Congress has the maximum number of candidates at 126, followed by the BJP (120), AGP (104), Trinamul Congress (99), AIUDF (78) and BPF (29).
The four Left parties, including the CPI and the CPI(M), had an understanding and fielded 47 common candidates. The CPI and the CPI(M) have fielded 17 candidates each while the CPI(ML)-Liberation has put up candidates in 8 seats and the AIFB in 5.
The turnout in the two-phase assembly elections in the state was the highest since 2001. The combined figure for the two-phase polls showed that the total turnout was 76.03 per cent, an overall rise of 0.21 per cent over the 2006 turnout (75.72 per cent) and 11.83 per cent over the 2001 polling percentage (65.2 per cent). In these elections, the first phase turnout was 73.11 per cent (total electorate 85,09,010) and 78.82 per cent (total electorate 96,78,720) in the second phase. The overall figures may see some changes because the chief electoral officer has recommended repoll in six centres which went to polls in the second phase — four in Rangia and one each in Udalguri and Bhawanipur constituencies. The repoll is likely to be held on April 18. Earlier, repoll was ordered in 10 booths during the first phase.
While the shadow of violence loomed large over the state due to stepped-up activities of certain extremist outfits, the elections passed off peacefully without any major untoward incident. Except for a couple of incidents, the more serious being in Rangia where some voters were injured in BSF lathicharge, polling was by and large peaceful throughout the state. At four booths at Udiana in Rangia constituency, police lathicharged voters without any provocation and the polling was stopped. The four BSF personnel who suddenly assaulted the voters and created troubles were later arrested. It is widely believed that the Congress hatched conspiracy to disrupt the poll process in Rangia constituency where the prospect of the CPI(M) candidate Ananta Deka appeared very bright. In the 2006 elections, sitting CPI(M) MLA Ananta Deka had wrested the seat from the Congress, defeating Assam Pradesh Congress Committee president Bhubneswar Kalita, his nearest rival.
CPI(M) and other Left parties took the election battle very seriously.
CPI(M) unleashed an aggressive campaign against the misdeeds and
misrule of the
Congress-led dispensation riddled with corruption scandals. The party
voters to oust the Congress from power and defeat the communal BJP at
hustings. In its election manifesto, the CPI(M) stressed the need for
formation of a non-Congress secular government and to increase the Left
representation in the
However, the Assam Gana Parishad (AGP), which has a secular credential, turned deaf ear and adopted an opportunistic attitude only to keep the options open for a post-poll alliance with the BJP. The AGP was a part of the BJP-led alliance earlier. During the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, it came back to the NDA fold but latter snapped the ties again. Though no pre-poll alliance could be finalised between the two parties for the latest assembly elections, there is said to be a tacit understanding between them in distribution of tickets.
As a matter of fact, the AGP proposed a “grand alliance” of all the non-Congress opposition parties, including the BJP, to oust the Congress from power. But the CPI(M) firmly rejected this absurd and unrealistic proposal and said it could not be a part of a poll combination that includes the BJP.
So the AGP contested the elections independent of the BJP. It made adjustments at local levels with the Bodo People's Progressive Front (BPPF), Janashakti and the Autonomous State Demand Committee (ASDC).
The Congress aimed at a hat trick. If realised, it would be the first by any party in the post-emergency era. But surveys by various agencies indicated that it would be difficult for the Congress to retain power for the third term. The Congress contested independently. In fact, this election was the first since 1996 when no party, except those of the Left, had an alliance or seat adjustment.
Last time, the Congress tally was just 53, down from 75 in 2001. But yet it formed a coalition government in 2006, as the Bodo People's Front (BPF) with 11 MLAs bailed it out. This time, the Congress has fielded candidates in all the seats including the 11 where the BPF has sitting MLAs. However, chief minister Tarun Gogoi said the Congress would have the BPF in the next government even if the ruling party won a majority.
For the Congress, while the AIUDF continues to be a threat as far as its traditional Muslim vote bank is concerned, the arrival of Mamata Banerjee's Trinamul Congress has taken away some of its middle-level leaders.
The BJP, which gained in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls due to its alliance with the AGP, suffered major setbacks in the 2010 Rajya Sabha polls. It had to expel 4 of its 10 legislators who openly supported a Congress candidate.
The AIUDF managed to win 10 seats in 2006, immediately after its formation, and now its president Badruddin Ajmal says the AIUDF would be able to improve its performance in this election. “No party will be able to form the next government in Assam without the support of the AIUDF,” he claimed. Though Ajmal clarified that the AIUDF would not have any alliance with the BJP, he did not clarify whether it would extend help the Congress to form a government. “If the Congress seeks support, the party will discuss the matter and take appropriate decision,” he added. In fact, though a staunch opponent of chief minister Tarun Gogoi, Ajmal maintains cordial relations with the national level leaders of the Congress including Mrs Sonia Gandhi. The AIUDF is not opposed to the Congress policies. In Assam, the AIUDF has considerable influence among the religious minority voters in the lower Assam districts like Barpeta, Dhubri and also in Nagaon, Cachar-Hailakandi etc.
The Congress exuded confidence about reclaiming power at Dispur for the third consecutive term on the issue of “permanent peace and development,” though it continued to use “secret killings” as one of the poll planks against the main opposition (AGP).
The BJP harped on massive corruption of the Congress and ‘illegal infiltration’ of Bangladeshi nationals. The AGP countered Congress claims and blamed the ruling party for the appalling state of affairs in Assam.
The opposition’s strongest weapon was massive corruption and sky-rocketing prices of essential commodities. The issue of corruption was taken up well ahead of the elections as the opposition tried to corner the government over the alleged Rs 1000 crore scam in North Cachar Hills and the corruption in implementing the central government schemes.
A major worry for the Congress was how to regain its lost ground in Muslim dominated areas. The AIUDF ate into the traditional Congress vote bank among immigrant Muslim settlers. Despite internal feuds and defections of some of its leaders and MLAs to the Congress, the AIUDF played a major role in erosion of Congress vote bank. It whipped up a strong anti-Congress campaign, has been banking on the anti-incumbency factor and focussing on lack of development in minority dominated areas.
During the BJP campaign, its president Nitin Gadkari, former president L K Advani and senior leaders Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Narendra Modi were among the star campaigners who frequented Assam. The Congress matched the line up with the prime minister Manmohan Singh, party president Sonia Gandhi, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and senior leaders like Digvijay Singh and Rahul Gandhi. Star campaigners of the Congress, BPF, AGP, BJP and AIUDF rushed around in helicopters to reach out to as many voters as they could. Although the prime minister visited the state a couple of times during the campaign, he and his wife did not fly down and skipped voting, even though their names are in the voters list of Assam. The prime minister did not even apply for a postal ballot.
The CPI(M) and other Left parties were the only ones to highlight the disastrous impact of neo-liberal economic policies being pursued by the Congress. Apart from the issues like galloping prices of essential commodities and institutionalised corruption at all levels of administration, the CPI(M) campaign focussed on the deepening crisis in agriculture, peasants’ problems, increasing rate of unemployment, bleak picture on the industrial front, problems of unorganised sector workers, privatisation and commercialisation of education, gross inadequacy in public health services and a host of other issues.
While highlighting the all-round failure of the Congress-led dispensation, the CPI(M) also brought to the focus the issues relating to social justice. The CPI(M) manifesto incorporated the demand for recognition of ST status to the six backward communities — Kock Rajbangshi, Tea-tribes, Tai-Ahoms, Moran, Matak and Chutias. It also demanded immediate measures for upliftment of the economically and socially backward sections of the Muslim community in line with the Sachar committee and Ranganath Mishra commission recommendations. The CPI(M) wants speedy political solution to the problems of extremism and terrorism through a peaceful dialogue with all extremist outfits.
The CPI(M) campaign got a fillip when Polit Bureau members Sitaram Yechury, Manik Sarkar and Brinda Karat addressed huge gatherings in several constituencies where the party fielded candidates. Yechury joined the election campaign on March 21 and addressed meetings in Rangia, Nalbari, Sorbhog, Jania and Sarukhetri constituencies for two consecutive days. Brinda Karat started her campaign at Naharkatia on March 27 and stayed in the state for three days to cover Sootea, Rangapara, Dhekiajuli and Rangia constituencies. Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar addressed meetings in Jania, Bijni, Nalbari and Rangia constituencies for four consecutive days, April 2 to 5. All the three exhorted the people of Assam to unseat the Congress from power and vote for the formation of a non-Congress secular government in the state. They also underlined the need for strengthening the CPI(M) and other Left parties and for increasing the Left representation in the assembly so as to raise the people’s issues effectively. They said the Left may play a decisive role in the formation of a new government if elected with increased strength.
Apart from the three Polit Bureau members, CPI(M)’s Central Committee members like Nilotpal Basu, Subhasini Ali, Bajubang Riang, Noorul Huda, Hemen Das and State Secretray Uddhab Barman toured extensively and campaigned for CPI(M) candidates. Nilotpal Basu addressed meetings in Silchar and Patharkandi, and Subhasini Ali in Dispur, Hojai, Sorbhog and Sarukhetri constituencies. Bajuban Riang addressed people in Rangia and Nalbari constituencies. Tripura minister Jiten Chaudhury addressed a number of meetings in Dispur, North Abhayapuri, Jania, Sorbhog and Rangia constituencies from April 4 to 9 while his colleague, Manik Dey, addressed meetings at Silchar. From Tripura, Naresh Jamatiya (MLA) and DYFI leader Tapas Dutta covered a number of constituencies like Bijni, Sarukhetri, Sorbhog, Rangia, Silchar, Hojai etc.
Along with these leaders, hundreds of foot soldiers joined the CPI(M) campaign in Assam, with the red flag and robust enthusiasm. The chance this time is that the CPI(M) will increase its vote share significantly, give its rivals a neck-to-neck fight in several constituencies, and may retain its two sitting seats — Rangia and Sorbhog. The chances of winning the Bijni and Sootea seats also appears bright. The electoral battle in Sootea, Bijni, Sarukhetri and Jania was certainly tough and the party put up a brave fight in these constituencies. Swelling support for the CPI(M) candidates was witnessed in all the constituencies where the party had candidates.
Though the Election Commission maintained strict vigil, it failed to curb money power during the elections. The ruling Congress and the Trinamul Congress formed by a breakaway group of middle-rank Congress leaders, made an ugly and vulgar display of wealth during the elections. Nor did the BJP and AGP lag behind in using money power.
The ruling Congress used a particular news channel to blatantly promote its agenda. However, a manifestly partisan attitude in airing biased political news and views was not restricted to just one channel. While it may not be possible to establish the role of monetary deals in most cases, the disquieting trend of predisposed news is widespread in both print and electronic media. A section of the media nakedly showed a partisan attitude towards the AGP and BJP and deliberately ignored the huge support extended to the Left candidates by cross sections of the people.
As any discerning observer will perceive, the Congress which has ruled the state for two consecutive terms is feeling the anti-incumbency heat and it will not surprise anyone if its number of seats goes down noticeably. Anti-incumbency apart, the issue of rampant corruption and growing dissidence within the party is bound to impact its electoral fortunes. The AGP, however, has not been able to build on these advantages the way one could expect from it as the main secular opposition party. This regional party fell short of meeting the people’s expectations even though it assumed power on two occasions — in 1985 and 1996. Since the parties have avoided pre-poll alliances, one can expect interesting developments during the post-poll situation.
A survey of the assembly polls projected a hung house in the state, with the ruling Congress suffering a slump but still emerging as the single largest party, followed by the AGP. Leaving aside the number of seats secured by major parties, it, however, is a forgone conclusion that none will get an absolute majority to form a government of its own. A hung assembly is likely and smaller parties would become the kingmakers. The BPF and AIUDF are likely to play a major role in the formation of the next government in Assam. It is also widely believed that the AGP has pulled off a ground level understanding with the BJP in key constituencies.
Whatever may the outcome of the elections, it is almost certain that the Left will make its presence felt, entering the next assembly with increased strength.
April 13, 2011