To thwart any attempts to poach MLAs ahead of the results on May 2, the two main contenders in the Assam Assembly elections – the Congress-led Opposition alliance (Mahajut) and the ruling alliance, the BJP-led Mitrajut — have packed off the candidates of their allies to resorts.
According to sources, this move was instigated by the results of the internal poll surveys conducted by both the alliances, which had showed the possibility of a hung assembly. Neither would win a majority to comfortably form the government, the surveys had predicted.
While the Congress has sent candidates of its alliance partners, the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) and Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), to resorts in Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, the BJP too plans to follow suit by sending its “vulnerable” candidates from its alliance partners to BJP-ruled states till counting begins.
Assam went to the polls in three phases between March 29 and April 6 for all 126 seats in its assembly. A party or coalition needs more than 63 seats to form a majority government in the state.
The Congress-led alliance had already suffered a major setback, ahead of the third phase of the election, when in an unprecedented manner Rangja Khungur Basumatary, the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) candidate from Tamulpur constituency first went missing and then emerged to join the BJP.
He backed out of the election barely a week from polling and even campaigned with the people not to vote for him but for a candidate of the rival United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL), BJP’s ally in this election.
The Congress which had lost power in Assam in 2016 and had been reduced to winning just 26 seats out of 126 seats, its worst tally ever in Assam, desperately requires its alliance partners to ‘perform well’ and notch up seats to be able to establish their regime once again.
Also, the Congress has had bitter experience with the BJP and their gameplan – the Operation Lotus to lure MLAs. The Congress had borne the brunt of this operation in many states and especially in Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh in the North-East. In both states, BJP managed to swing its far less electoral gains in its favour by poaching candidates from Congress’ alliance partners. Though, Congress had won the maximum number of seats.
In the last Manipur elections, the Congress had won 28 of the 60 seats, while the BJP garnered 22 seats, but the latter managed to get a few Congress MLAs and other MLAs from smaller parties to defect and managed to form the government. Likewise, in 2016 in Arunachal Pradesh, many Congress MLAs of the then Congress government had switched camp to join the regional party—Peoples’ Party of Arunachal, an ally of the BJP and then subsequently joined the saffron party.
Therefore, not willing to take any chances, the Congress has actively turned to ‘resort politics’ and moved the AIUDF and BPF candidates to places in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
Defending this step, senior Congress leader and Lok Sabha MP, Pradyut Bordoloi said that this move is a preemptive measure to avoid a repeat of past mistakes. The Congress is not willing to take any chances this time.
“It is important to safeguard and protect the candidates of our alliance partners since we have seen how the ruling BJP government manipulates election mandates to capture power in different states,” he said, adding the most recent example being Manipur. However, Congress candidates have not been housed in any safe locations.
“Our Congress members are not sent anywhere. It is only the candidates of our alliances partners who need to be protected from BJP’s dirty tricks. We have already witnessed in Goa, Manipur and other places how BJP manipulate the voters’ verdict to gain power,” reiterated the Congressman.
Senior AIUDF leaders confirmed that the candidates will be confined to resorts till the declaration of results on May 2. However, they may be shifted from Rajasthan to other places as well. Aminul Islam, senior AIUDF leader added that their party candidates have been provided with new mobile phone with a separate number.
“This is being done so that they cannot be contacted by the outside world,” he pointed out. On asked how it is possible to keep candidates shut off from the outside world in this age of technology and Internet, Islam replied mysteriously that it has been taken care off.
The BPF candidates are the guests of resorts in the Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh state. Senior Congress leader Jitendra Singh, who is also the Assam-in-charge, and three AICC secretaries will visit Assam this week and camp in the state to oversee the preparations for the counting of votes on May 2.
Meanwhile, BJP sources said the party is also contemplating sending candidates belonging to its new alliance partner — the UPPL — to BJP-ruled Goa in the next few days to prevent any defections to the BPF. This is because several UPPL members are being pressured by the Hagrama Mohilary-led BPF to defect.
The BJP had dumped the BPF after a successful five-year alliance and this has allegedly hurt Mohilary, who has challenged to bring down the Bodoland Territorial Region council formed by UPPL and BJP. Many UPPL council members had alleged that they were being repeatedly accosted by the BPF leadership to join them.