With the first phase of assembly elections in Assam slated for April 4, and the second phase on April 11, it appears that the ruling Congress is all set to stage a comeback under the leadership of Tarun Kumar Gogoi.
A fragmented opposition, major developmental activities including launching of many pro-poor welfare schemes and the restoration of peace and communal harmony by bringing almost all the underground groups into the mainstream for dialogue are some of the main highlights of it campaign. Which is why, the mandate is likely to go in favour of the ruling government.
The division of United Liberated Front of Asom and the return of majority ULFA leaders led by its chairman Arabindo Rajkhowa, has given a major boost to the peace campaign and a great relief to the people at large who are now confident that a breakthrough on Assam's three decades old insurgency problem is achievable.
Prashanta Baruah, executive editor of The Assam Tribune, told rediff.com, "The restoration of peace has certainly made a positive impact on the people of Assam, particularly to those who have lost their kith and kin in the last decades due to violence and killing unleashed by ULFA."
"This apart, the ruling government has earned goodwill of the people for its pro-people policies and programmes. In fact, the Congress was in a better position before the announcement of the list of its candidates. Factional bickering has now surfaced in many constituencies which may mar its prospects in certain assembly segments. But overall the Congress still has an edge over its opponents," he said.
ULFA hardliners led by Paresh Baruah has given a 12-hour Assam bandh call on Saturday to protest against the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh's visit to the state. The PM is scheduled to address a few election rallies during his whirlwind Assam tour. The people of Assam have apparently disapproved this bandh call, as the Baruah faction of ULFA is working overtime to create hurdle to the process of peace talks.
Noted Assamese writer Nirupama Buragohain said, "What sovereignty is the Baruah faction talking about? Assam has always been a part and parcel of India and we will remain with India."
Randhir, a businessman, expressed the hope that if this government returns to power, Assam will probably witness a lasting solution to its insurgency problem. "The extortion drive by insurgent outfits have been reduced drastically and it is a good sign," he said.
But it is not a cakewalk for the ruling Congress in all the 126 assembly constituencies in the state. Besides simmering discontent over the selection of candidates, the party is also facing a tough challenge in at least 10 constituencies from the Asom United Democratic Front.
Similarly, the Bodoland People's Front which was a coalition partner in the outgoing assembly is also contesting in all the 10 assembly seats fallen within the Bodoland territory. Significantly, the Congress has also put up candidates in all the seats describing the decision as a 'friendly contest.'
Then, there are two formidable opposition parties, the regional Asom Gana Parishad and the national opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party who are relentlessly campaigning on the corruption in the state and at the Centre, easy entry and settlement of foreign nationals (read Bangladeshi) in Assam during the Congress regime and the lack of overall development leading to the hardship of common people.
But despite the opposition's attempt to campaign on corruption, influx of foreigners and lack of development in the state, local issues are dominating the electioneering. Now it remains to be seen how the electorate express their mind on the day of reckoning.