Congress, BJP, AIUDF key players in Assam

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Guwahati, Mar 13: A direct contest between the ruling Congress and the BJP is on the cards for a majority of the 14 Lok Sabha constituencies in Assam going to poll, though the All India United Democratic Front is likely to do good in the minority-dominated seats.

The house of Asom Gana Parishad, which at one time dictated the direction of Assam politics, is in a state of disarray as several of its top leaders have deserted the party to join the BJP. The Congress had emerged as the single largest party in the 2009 Lok Sabha poll winning seven seats while its ally the Bodoland Peoples' Party had retained Kokrajhar.

The BJP had finished second with four seats while the AGP and the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) had won one seat each. The AGP's fortune has been on a downswing ever since it was relegated to third place in the 2011 Assembly poll, mostly on account of the fast-rising AIUDF.

The first prominent leader to desert the AGP was former student leader Sarbananda Sonowal who joined the BJP and went on to become the party's state unit president. He was followed by the party's founder-members and former powerful state ministers Chandramohan Patowary and Hiten Goswami.

The defectors alleged that they were forced to leave the party as the rank and file had lost confidence in their founder-president and former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta who, however, refused to step down as party leader.

The AGP had finished second in four seats in the last polls, but the going appears to be tough for the regional party with the BJP going all out to consolidate their position in the state with the national leadership paying particular attention to the state.

Batting for the BJP, Sonowal said, "People in Assam are fed up with the anti-people policies of the Congress-led government and want to give the BJP a chance at the Centre."

Claiming that there was a distinct Modi wave blowing across the country, Sonowal said, "The BJP will definitely improve its performance in the state riding on the Modi wave and will get more than the four seats it had won in the last LS polls."

Another AGP leader Chandramohan Patowary, a former minister of the party, argued, "People have lost faith in the regional party's leadership and want a change.

The grassroot workers of the AGP are very restless and disappointed with the developments within the party."

Patowary claimed that many more leaders and their followers were waiting in the wings to leave the party at an opportune moment.

The Congress, however, may not find the going particularly easy in 2014 as the party has been rocked by internal squabble in the state unit with a section of Congress ministers and legislators expressing unhappiness with Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi's style of functioning.

A section of the Congress was also opposed to Gogoi's promotion of family members by getting his son, Gaurav Gogoi, nominated for Kaliabor constituency replacing his brother and sitting MP Dip Gogoi.

Tarun Gogoi, however, denied that pro-Modi sentiments had characterised the pre-poll scenario in Assam. "The people of Assam are aware that it is the Congress which has brought about development in the state and the UPA government's welfare schemes for the region have definitely helped them improve the quality of their lives," he said.

Another matter of worry for the Congress is the likely division of votes of its traditional minority vote bank following the rise of the AIUDF in minority-dominated constituencies of Dhubri, Karimganj and Silchar.

The AIUDF, the largest opposition party in the state Assembly, is an ally of the UPA at the Centre, but it is opposed to the Congress in the state politics.

Assam will go to polls in three stages on April seven, April 12 and April 24. While the Congress will contest 13 seats leaving one for its ally Bodoland Peoples' Party, the BJP will contest in 12 seats.

The fate of two Union ministers - Paban Singh Ghatowar, renominated from Dibrugarh, and Ranee Narah from Lakhimpur - will be decided in the first phase with the former attempting to retain the seat for the sixth term and the latter for the fourth term.

Narah, whose candidature was also opposed by a section of the Congress, will find the going tough against BJP's state unit President Sarbananda Sonowal though Ghatowar was expected to sail through comfortably.

PTI

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