With the BJP opening the floodgates for turncoats from other parties, senior leaders who had built the saffron party from scratch are apprehensive about it losing its core identity and character to the Congress.
The diminishing number of BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) members who got ticket for the upcoming assembly polls and the spurt in the number of ‘Congressmen’ who the party is giving tickets to indicates the growing hold of Congress turncoats in the BJP.
Senior BJP leader Ramen Deka, who had started his political career with the Jan Sang, expressed disappointment over the selection process and the BJP leadership giving candidature to so many former Congress leaders.
“The candidate selection process has become more money-centric and it’s less about ideology and interest to work. It is disheartening to see that ideology is no more the driving force to get ticket. Unlike earlier, now people from the opposite ideology are getting candidature to contest the election,” Deka rued.
The BJP which will contest the Assam assembly election in alliance with regional parties Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL), has announced a list of 70 candidates (for the 126-member assembly) who will contest in the first two phases of the polls. Names of several turncoats from the Congress, known to be loyal to Assam finance minister and North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) convener Himanta Biswa Sarma, have made it to the list.
Party insiders say, since coming to power at the Centre in 2014 and wining a record number of seven out of 14 Lok Sabha seats in Assam, the BJP has slowly and steadily sidelined its core leaders who had helped build the party in the north-eastern state, and has instead opened its doors to turncoats, mostly from the Congress, much to the dismay of the senior BJP leaders.
In the first list of candidates released on Friday (March 5), the BJP denied ticket to 12 incumbent MLAs including a minister and several party old-timers. The BJP also gave ticket to former senior Congress leaders Ajanta Neog and Gautam Roy, who were ministers for over 12 years in the Congress government between 2001 and 2016, and had switched to the BJP after the Congress lost power at the Centre.
Ashok Sarma, the BJP MLA from Nalbari who won in 2016 and was a senior RSS functionary, was denied ticket to make way for Jayanta Malla Buzarbaruah, a former Congress MLA who had joined the saffron party in 2015.
Buzarbaruah is a known to be a close associate of Himanta Biswa Sarma and had switched parties after the latter defected to the saffron party in 2015. Earlier, he was denied a ticket to contest under pressure from the RSS and it went to Sarma, but this time the state BJP leadership went ahead and gave ticket to Buzarbaruah.
Sitting MLA from Jagiroad Pijush Hazarika and BJP candidate from Naharkatia Taranga Gogoi are two other loyalist of Himanta Biswa Sarma who had switched to the saffron party from the Congress after latter’s switch.
Another of two close associates of Sarma and former Congressmen – Amiyo Bhuyan and Manab Deka have made it to the BJP’s first list.
According to a senior BJP functionary, several of Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal’s nominees have been denied ticket to contest. This includes Lakhya Konwar, general secretary of the State-level Advisory Committee for Students and Youth Welfare, sitting Lahowal MLA Rituparna Baruah and Bihpuria MLA Debanada Hazarika. However, most names recommended by Himanta Biswa Sarma have been given a ticket.
“This is a clear indication of the growing influence of Sarma in the party in Assam, and there could be a change of chief minister if the BJP-led government is voted to power,” added the party functionary.
Senior leaders have expressed disappointment over the leadership ignoring old-timers who had stood by the party in good and bad times and choosing Congress turncoats who defected to the BJP only after it came to power, instead.
“I worked hard and did my best in my constituency, and I stuck with the BJP during bad times. I had worked for the party wholeheartedly while it is in power and also when it was not in power. I was hopeful of getting a ticket to contest, and I am disappointed over my exclusion,” said Ashok Sarma.
Sarma however ruled out joining any other party or contesting as an independent, and said that he will stick to the BJP.
“I am disappointed that my party didn’t consider the good works and initiatives which I had undertaken in my constituency. I am disappointed with the party leadership,” he added.
Former Lok Sabha MP and union minister Rajen Gohain, who was denied a ticket to contest the Lok Sabha election in 2019 but was expecting candidature for the present assembly election, said the party is making a big mistake over the choice of candidates.
On being asked about his next course of action, Gohain hinted that he will contest the Assembly election. Gohain’s close associates pointed out that the former union minister is in talks with the Congress and the regional party- Asom Jatiya Parishad – and will take a decision in a few days.
Ramen Deka said that the names on the BJP’s candidates’ list explains the candidate selection process.
“I could have become a minister in 1985 when AGP came to power, but I choose to stick to my party. It is sad to see how ideology have has disappeared,” Deka said.
Former BJP leader Bitopan Saikia, who had contested from the saffron party in 2016 and had lost narrowly to former minister Ajanta Neog of the Congress, joined the latter soon after the BJP announced the candidates’ list. Saikia is likely to contest as a Congress candidate from the Golaghat constituency.
“I have built the party (BJP) brick by brick and narrowly lost to Congress in 2016, and now the BJP is giving ticket to the person who defeated me. I will contest from my constituency itself and I am in talks with the Assam Congress leadership on this,” he added.