Assam parties vie for tea workers pie for phase II

One of the four constituencies, Dibrugarh, has been a Congress bastion but State PCC chief Paban Singh Ghatowar is facing an uphill task there. While the main challenge has come from Sarbananda Sonowal of the AGP, the BJP has also threatened to cause a massive erosion of the Congress vote bank consisting of tea labourers.

In Dibrugarh, the tea labourers make up for nearly 70 per cent of the votes, due to which Ghatowar, who also comes from the same community, had polled as high as 64 per cent votes in 1998. The Congress vote-share, however, came down drastically to 48 per cent in 1999, with the BJP’s going up from 25 per cent to 36 per cent.

This time, the BJP has fielded firebrand tea community leader Kamakhya Prasad Tasha to take on Ghatowar, and even a six per cent tilt in favour of the BJP can wash out the Congress’ possibilities of a win.

‘‘It is not that easy. Tasha does not belong to Dibrugarh,’’ claimed Ghatowar, confirming that the Congress was using the outsider tag against the BJP candidate. The BJP is, however, confident it will win, and points at the 80,000 Hindi-speaking voters in the constituency.

Waiting in the wings for an erosion of the Congress vote bank in favour of the BJP is the AGP’s Sonowal. ‘‘We are getting increasing support of the Hindi-speaking people who suffered a lot in December when Congress and BJP failed to protect them from militant attacks,’’ said Sonowal.

In Jorhat too, the Congress vote share came down from 65 per cent in 1998 to 48 per cent in 1999, with the BJP’s share going up from 14 to 32 per cent in one year.

The AGP, meanwhile, is trying to cash in on the NDTV-The Indian Express exit poll results of the first phase, according to which the regional party polled 31 per cent against 30 of the Congress and 26 of the BJP. +++

(By SAMUDRA GUPTA KASHYAP in The Indian Express, dated 23 April, 2004)