New Delhi: The Tarun Gogoi-led Congress on Friday swept back to power in Assam for a record third term, successfully leveraging its ability to ensure peace and script the first insurgency-free election in decades.
In what seems to be a vote for peace and development, the Congress stormed back in the state, winning 76 of the 126 assembly seats (up from 53 in the outgoing assembly), decimating the main opposition Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), which managed to win 10 seats.
Also see | Assam: Key Winners And Losers (PDF)
It is the first instance in the post-Emergency era that an incumbent party has managed to win a mandate to rule for a third consecutive term. Despite a series of corruption charges against it, the Congress government managed to tap the growing aspirations of the voters in the state to join the growth process.
“Now we can look forward to development, like the rest of the country, which includes jobs and better connectivity,” said Dibakar Bora, a voter in Jorhat. “Peace has always eluded us but, finally, this government seems to have done the impossible.”
Utpal Deka of Nalbari district, a hotbed of insurgency, agreed.
“Earlier, we could not get out of our houses in the evening because of fear of Ulfa (United Liberation Front of Asom) and, hence, most of us who are young would be sent out to study. But now, more and more of us are planning to stay on and work right here, especially with enhanced development prospects.”
With the aim of ending nearly three decades of insurgency in the state, peace talks with Ulfa initiated by chief minister Gogoi, along with the Centre, resulted in the outfit not involving itself directly in the elections by either calling for a boycott or obstructing the electoral process.
This was the first election in decades where fundamental issues such as development and transparency in governance took centre stage.
It took precedence over the campaign of opposition AGP and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which focused on corruption and illegal migration, respectively. While AGP’s tally dropped from 24 seats in the 2006 assembly election to 10, the BJP managed to win only four seats.
“People have voted for peace, development and stability,” said Wasbir Hussain, director, Centre for Development and Peace Studies. “The Tarun Gogoi-led Congress government had provided a stable administration which focused on issues of social welfare and peace.”
“Militancy in the state has gone down drastically and that has been appreciated by the common man as well as the trade and business community,” he said. “Now there is a great aspiration for development, for better education and employment opportunities, especially among the youth.”
The Badruddin Ajmal-led All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), meanwhile, managed to win 18 seats.
The party was formed only in 2005, but had won 11 of the 126 seats in the 2006 assembly election.
With Muslims accounting for nearly 30% of the population and their vote being key in more than 40 of 126 constituencies, the AIUDF was hoping to play kingmaker in government formation.
However, with the Congress crossing the halfway mark of 63, it is unlikely to need any support from smaller parties such as AIUDF and the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF).
“One cannot forget that the Congress has managed to come back to power all on its own because of all the money power as well as illegal votes of Bangladeshi migrants,” said Dhirendra Nath Bezbaruah, former editor of The Sentinel. “The number of voters in the state in the last two years has gone up by a steep 13% and with such a swell in its votebank, the Congress was obviously likely to come back.”
KEY AGENDA OF THE WINNING PARTY
• Reforms in the financial sector, increasing per capita income, establishing an Assam investment development corporation, and giving special packages for scheduled castes and tribes and other backward classes
• Reforms in education, including absorbing 100,000 youth in the education sector, apart from setting up a high-level knowledge commission and a state education commission
• Focus on panchayat and rural development, including setting up a commission to formulate measures to uplift the rural economy
• Increasing the number of police stations and outposts
• Attempting to enlist six communities as schedule tribes
• After Friday’s result, Tarun Kumar Gogoi will go on to become the longest-serving chief minister of Assam
• The Trinamool Congress for the first time opened its account in Assam, with Dwipen Pathak winning from Hajo constituency
Peace talks with Ulfa proved to be a masterstroke, that catapulted the Tarun Gogoi-led Congress party back to power. After nearly three decades of insurgency, peace talks by the state government and the Centre led to Ulfa distancing itself from being directly involved in the election process.