In Assam bypolls, Cong. failed to woo back Ahoms, tea garden tribes

With 56 out of 126 Assembly seats coming from upper Assam, the region is key to the party’s revival

The Congress’ washout in Assam in the recent bypolls indicates that the party has not only failed to impress voters despite changes in the State leadership but, more importantly, reflects the failure to woo back major communities such as Ahoms and tea garden tribes that play a decisive role in upper Assam.

And with 56 out of 126 Assembly seats coming from upper Assam, the region is key to the Congress’ revival in the State.

But the Congress’ failure to hold onto Mariani and Thowra, the two seats in upper Assam it had won during the April Assembly elections, is a worrying sign.

The results are even more significant as the party contested the recent bypolls after breaking its alliance with Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), that was largely blamed for a polarised election earlier.

The two Assembly seats not only saw Congress defectors comfortably win on a BJP ticket but the candidates represented the two major communities, Ahoms and tea tribes.

Four-time MLA from Mariani, Rupjyoti Kurmi, is a popular leader from the tea garden community that used to be once a strong Congress vote bank. But since 2014, the party has seen a massive erosion of support from the community as the BJP made giant strides.

Similarly, a large section of the Ahom community, that has given stalwarts and former Chief Ministers like Tarun Gogoi and Hiteshwar Saikia to the Congress, has also moved to the BJP since 2014.

For example, the BJP that had 13% vote share in the 2011 Assembly elections, went up to 46% in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Since then, the BJP-led NDA has consistently maintained a steady lead over the Congress-led opposition bloc.

The Congress, on the other hand, saw its vote share go down from 46% in the 2011 Assembly polls to 36% in the 2016 State elections when its 15-year uninterrupted rule was broken.

Faced with another setback, Congress leaders offer various reasons why the party fared poorly. Some argued that the tea garden community voted for the BJP because of benefits such as free rice, direct benefit transfers among others.

Others said a division in the anti-BJP vote helped the ruling party as the Congress came third in Thowra.

‘Cong. is alternative’

Former Union Minister and a prominent tea garden community leader, Paban Singh Ghatowar, said, “The candidates in Mariani and Thowra have been our MLAs for many terms and shared personal relationship with the voters”.

“We couldn’t match the BJP’s organisation and resource mobilisation. But I do believe that the Congress is the alternative and we will turn around after strengthening the organisation,” he added.

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