A disgruntled BJP MP, crushed aspirations of a powerful Assam minister to represent the seat, coupled with the dogged persistence of a former bureaucrat as the Congress contestant, the fight for Assam’s prestigious Tezpur parliamentary constituency seems to have all the ingredients of a soap opera. Assam’s Finance and PWD Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had expressed the desire to contest the Lok Sabha polls and had an eye on the Tezpur constituency but the party’s central leadership played a spoilsport.
The minister’s name was in the candidates’ list for Tezpur which in turn antagonised the sitting BJP MP RP Sharma, who went on to resign from the party, even before the list of candidates was announced. Sharma alleged that the BJP in the state has been usurped by the new entrants from other parties and old-timers like him are not being given the due they deserve.
“We worked hard over the years to bring the party to the position it has reached now but newcomers are calling the shots now and the seniors are neglected,” he said.
The minister, who had joined the BJP from the Congress in 2015, may have been disappointed at not getting the seat himself but he went on to ensure that it was his loyalist and state labour minister Pallab Lochan Das who got the party’s ticket for Tezpur.
After the minister was denied the ticket, BJP president Amit Shah had tweeted that the central BJP wished Sarma to continue as a minister in Assam along with discharging his duties as the Chairman of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), the regional platform of the NDA.
Sarma too had tweeted saying that he accepted the decision “humbly and the region will not disappoint Shah in making Narendra Modi Prime Minister again”.
The selection of the BJP candidate for the constituency may have been fraught with intense drama but the selection of its candidate, MGVK Bhanu, by the opposition Congress, was relatively smooth.
A retired bureaucrat, Bhanu had nurtured Tezpur, where he had earlier served as a deputy commissioner, over the years and had joined the Congress last year after retiring as the state’s additional chief secretary.
The contest is direct between the Congress and the BJP with the fight likely to be tough and close between Bhanu and Das.
There are a total of eight candidates, including three independents, in the fray.
Retaining the Tezpur seat has become a prestige issue for the BJP and the NEDA convener is campaigning hard in the constituency to ensure his protege’s win.
Tezpur was a traditional Congress bastion till 2004 with the Gorkha and the tea tribe community playing a dominant role in the electoral battle between the candidates.
The AGP wrested the seat from Congress in 2009 and BJP’s R P Sharma, a prominent Gorkha leader, won in 2014.
The going for the BJP may have been smooth as the party has seven of the assembly segments in the constituency in its kitty while the eighth is with its alliance partner AGP but denying Sharma the ticket may have skewed the pitch for it.
Sharma, who belongs to the sizeable Nepali community, has made it amply clear that his people are not “very happy with the party’s decision and they will find ways to express their disappointment”.
The constituency has so far sent three representatives from the community to Lok Sabha including former Congress MP Moni Kumar Subba for three consecutive terms.
Das, who belongs to the tea tribe and is also the state’s tea tribe welfare minister, is, however, confident of getting the votes of his community which has a sizeable population in at least five of assembly segments of the constituency.
The Congress candidate is also attempting to woo back the tea tribes, who were earlier their traditional vote bank but was gradually weaned away by the BJP in the last Lok Sabha and assembly elections.
“The BJP promised the tea garden workers a minimum wage of Rs 350 per day and many more welfare schemes which they failed to fulfil. The workers have realised that the BJP is not capable of doing anything for them and the majority will vote for the Congress,” Bhanu said.
Das, who represents Rangapara segment of the constituency in the state assembly, is also playing the local versus outsider tag against Bhanu who hails from Andhra Pradesh.
“The people of the constituency cannot even pronounce the name of the Congress candidate, why will they vote for a person who is not from the state and who cannot understand their feelings and needs,” the BJP candidate said.
Bhanu retorted with “it is not ‘naam’ (name) but ‘kaam’ (work) that is needed and I have worked in the state for decades now, understand the various problems and have even worked to find a solution to these problems”.
The ace up Bhanu’s sleeve is, however, the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) which was prevented by the Congress from being passed in the Rajya Sabha and he is playing this card to the hilt to reap the advantage of the prevailing sentiments of the indigenous people against the Bill which the BJP has announced will enact if they are returned to power.