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Politicians turned Assam panchayat polls to a circus!


wasbir Hussain
Executive director,
centre for development and peace studies

Politicians in Assam have at last managed to turn the Panchayat elections in the State to a circus. They have managed to do this orally, saying all kinds of things against rival political leaders, inciting passions to the extent that supporters have done a Bihar in Assam—capturing booths in front of rolling television cameras!

Predictably, the key ring masters are four in number—chief minister and Congress veteran Tarun Gogoi, AGP old guard and party chief Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, Maulana–business tycoon–turned politician and leader of AIUDF Badruddin Ajmal, and AASU–AGP turned saffron flag–bearer Sarbananda Sonowal, the brand new BJP president in Assam.

Well, the Congress leaders have been heli–hopping to address poll rallies, something that has not been a common practice during panchayat election campaigns. How has the Congress been able to generate funds to hire choppers? AGP chief Mahanta seems to have the answer. He did some thinking aloud before journalists saying there are four key broiler chicken tycoons operating in Assam, and the Congress, through a deal with them, have raised the price of this variety of chicken and the commissioned earned on this deal is being used to fly helicopters!

Tarun Gogoi on his part says the Panchayat poll contest has turned out to be less interesting because of a weak opposition. “There is hardly any contest before the Congress. The opposition is weak and divided. An election becomes interesting only if there is something called a contest…” Well, Maulana Ajmal is no saint. He has exhorted his supporters to indulge in pro–AIUDF sloganeering so loud that Tarun Gogoi’s chair gets a jolt as also the chair of Rokybul Hussain, the beleaguered forest minister.

Other senior party leaders too joined the vitriolic war of words. Health and Education minister Himanta Biswa Sharma was at his crudest best. He likened his Congress party to a Jersey cow that gives 16 litres of milk a day and asked the enthusiastic crowd, ‘will you get a cow that will give you no milk?’ He said the AGP–BJP was like a cow that gives no milk!

It was as if the politicians were competing against each other in this ludicrous war of words. Nilomoni Sen Deka, the state Agriculture minister went a step ahead. He said Sarbananda Sonowal, the state BJP chief, was a milk loving baby in politics. Sonowal, known for his shrill jibes, retorted saying the Congress was not expected to know the value of milk.

While the politicians engaged in such public tamasha, the candidates contesting the rural polls had no clue as to what was going on. That the political parties have made a mockery of the Panchayat polls was indicated by many candidates making fools of themselves before television cameras. Candidates, both men and women, did not even know the names of Assam’s ministers or the nation’s prime minister. A woman candidate thought Atal Behari Vajpayee was still India’s prime minister!

“I need leave. I have to go home and vote for Pathan (name changed),” my driver, who hails from Barpeta, said. "Who is Pathan?" I ask him. "He is a Congress leader.’ ‘What is he contesting for?" "He is not contesting, but his wife is. Our seat has been reserved for women,” he explained. The moral of the story is simple—male political workers have put up their wives or women of their choice as candidates!

As one watches the tamasha, the obvious question comes to mind—how can these Panchayat leaders and their political mentors translate Mahatma Gandhi’s dream of Gram Swaraj to reality? (courtesy: The Sentinel)