The Congress party’s traditional bastion among the tea workers in Dibrugarh, Jorhat and Tezpur Lok Sabha constituencies holds the key to the party’s fortunes in the first phase polling on April 7 in Assam. The BJP has been trying hard to make inroads here.
If the size of the crowd at election rallies is an indicator, then Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has clearly outwitted the Congress in four of the five Lok Sabha constituencies that are going to polls in Assam in the first phase.
Dibrugarh, Jorhat, Lakhimpur, Tezpur and Kaliabor are the constituencies going to poll. Big guns from the Congress and the BJP have already hit the campaign trail in all of these places except Kaliabor, where (Chief Minister) Tarun Gogoi’s son Gaurav is cutting his teeth in electoral politics.
Four of these five constituencies -- Jorhat, Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur and Kaliabor -- were won by Congress in the last election while Tezpur was won by the regional Asom Gana Parishad .
But the BJP wave is not discernible in the Congress citadel among tea workers located in these constituencies. Barring Congress, which has been maintaining a base among tea workers since independence, no other political party including the BJP has any formidable base among these illiterate, poor tea workers for whom election means the ‘hand’ symbol.
“I have seen many elections in this part. The tea workers know only one party Congress and only one election symbol. Of course there has been some change in the scene in the last few years among the educated section of tea works but that is insignificant,” said Dipak Gupta, 50, a paan shop owner in Dibrugarh.
“Don’t go by the size of the crowd in BJP rallies in the urban areas,” he added
The Congress has fielded Union Minister Paban Singh Ghatowar from Dibrugarh, Bijoy Krishna Handique from Jorhat and Gaurav Gogoi from Kaliabor and hopes to swing votes mainly on the strength of its ‘popularity’.
Ghatowar is from the tea workers community and is a leader of Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha, an INTUC affiliated union of tea workers in Assam.
The BJP has fielded two young leaders from the tea community Rameswar Teli and Kamakhya Prasad Tasa from Dibrugarh and Jorhat constituencies to wean away voters.
The party has fielded Mrinal Saikia, an Assamese, from Kaliabor.
The AGP has fielded Anup Phukon, Pradip Hazarika and Dr Arun Kumar Sharma from Jorhat, Dibrugarh and Kaliabor constituencies.
The BJP poses a challenge to the Congress in Dibrugarh and Jorhat constituencies while it is expected that AGP will cause concern for the Congress in Kaliabor.
The Congress is facing internal conflict in Jorhat with a section of Congress being opposed to the candidature of veteran Bijoy Krishna Handique.
There are over 36 lakh workers in over 800 organised tea gardens in Assam that contribute more than half of the country’s tea production. Tea gardens have remained focus areas for political parties with the Congress, BJP and AGP going the extra mile to woo the voters ahead of every election. Out of these tea gardens almost half of them are located within these three constituencies.
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