Friday, May 24, 2024

In post-delimitation Assam, why division of Muslim votes can diminish their electoral prospects

Dalgaon MLA Majibur Rahman with BPF candidate Durga Das Boro and BPF chief Hagrama Molihary in Udalguri. AIUDF has extended their support to BPF to counter BJP and Congress.

“Ensure that not a single vote goes to the Congress and no Bodo votes get wasted to the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) as the Bodo-identity has an existential threat from it”, an invigorated All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) MLA from Dalgaon assembly constituency, Majibur Rahman, asked the mixed crowd of Bodos and Muslims supporting Durga Das Boro of Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) party in Udalguri just before filing the nomination papers on 3 April 2024.

The AIUDF MLA minced no words to predict a clear victory for the BPF candidate just like Hagrama Mohilary, an armed-struggle leader for a separate Bodo statehood who floated the later party in 2005 after a truce between the Indian government and revolting tribal leaders in 2003.

Darrang-Udalguri parliamentary constituency goes to polls on 26 April after the delimitation of assembly and parliamentary constituencies in Assam. However, the newly formulated Lok Sabha seat has mostly areas from the erstwhile Mangaldoi constituency.

The BJP had won the constituency consecutively since 2004. Before that the saffron party lost to Congress candidate Madhab Rajbongshi — who is representing the grand old party again this year— in 1999 general polls with a margin of 16434. In the next two national polls, in 2004 and 2009, Rajbongshi fell short against the Hindutva party candidates.

Number dynamics in Darrang-Udalguri

With the delimitation of constituencies in the state, Mangaldoi Lok Sabha constituency was named Darrang-Udalguri parliamentary constituency. The newly demarcated constituency has geographical areas of assembly constituencies of Rangia, Kamalpur (of Kamrup district), Tamulpur, Goreswar (of Baksa district), Bhergaon, Mazbat, Tangla, Udalguri ST (of Udalguri district), Sipajhar, Mangaldoi, and Dalgoan (of Darrang district).

The new boundary omits Nalbari assembly constituency from the peoples’ house seat while two other assembly seats— Paneri and Kalaigaon— were delimited. Nalbari assembly seat has been attached to Barpeta parliamentary seat. But the areas of the erstwhile Kalaigaon assembly seat have been marked under Sipajhar and Mangaldoi assembly constituencies whereas the areas of Paneri have gone to Udalguri ST and Tangla constituencies.

Nalbari assembly seat, which is the home turf of incumbent BJP candidate Dilip Saikia, has been a long-term BJP bastion in the general elections. In 2019 national polls, Saikia emerged victorious with 7,35,464 votes against Congress candidate Bhubaneshwar Kalita who secured 5,96,924 votes. However, the BJP candidate left behind the INC candidate miserably in Nalbari where the saffron party candidate won a whopping 1,05,623 against Kalita’s 54,994 votes. 

Over the years, voters in Nalbari have favoured the BJP— in 2004, BJP got 33087 (Congress 26677, AGP 22427), in 2009 it secured 52,616 (Congress 32,220), in 2014 the saffron party got 75,779 (Congress 46,216) votes. But this time around, voters in Nalbari areas will be choosing their member of Parliament from Barpeta constituency.

On the other hand, the emergence of BPF’s Durga Das Boro as a representative of Boro community changes the dynamics in the parliamentary constituency— from binary to tri-poler— breaking the BJP-Congress tussle. In the 2021 state assembly elections, BPF had won the then Kalaigaon seat (Durga Das himself by winning 60815 votes), and Majbat assembly constituency (with 54,409 votes) and gave strong competition in Udalguri. BPF got 56916 votes against United People’s Party Liberal’s (UPPL— BJP’s ally in the state) 61,767 votes in the Udalguri assembly seat polls. However, the party was a distant second in the then Panery seat with 36,707 votes— just over the halfway mark of votes the BJP garnered.

The BPF camp also has the open support of AIUDF, the minority electoral force in the central Assam region. Badaruddin Ajmal led party’s MLA from Dalgaon constituency relentlessly has been camping with BPF candidate Durga Das. The MLA sits on the command majority of voters in Bangali Muslim dominant Dalgaon assembly constituency.

After delimitation of assembly seats in Assam, Dalgaon has encompassed greater areas inhabited by Bangali speaking Muslims which generally favors the AIUDF in the region. Rahman had won 1,18,342 votes out of 2,12,683 valid votes polled. Adding to this, Mangaldoi assembly constituency also has a significant Bangali Muslim population that supports the Dalgaon MLA Rahman. BPF joined by AIUDF has become a political force to reckon with in these general polls.

The Congress on the otherhand has a sitting MLA in Mangaldoi assembly constituency and had an MLA in Dalgaon constituency who had won thrice before the 2021 assembly.

Muslim dynamics post delimitation in Assam

Out of Assam’s 14 seats, five constituencies go to polls in the second phase of elections on April 26. The formerly known Autonomous District renamed as Diphu, Darrang-Udalguri, Nagaon, Karimganj and Silchar will see the fates of 61 candidates decided.

After the delimitation, these constituencies have seen demographic and characteristics changes. Bangali Hindus and Muslims, including those who have settled prior to partition and post-partition (but before the creation of Bangladesh), have become a majority three seats— Karimganj, Silchar and central Assam’s Nagaon constituencies.

Karimganj which has 60 percent Muslim population, was reserved for SC(s) previously, has been unreserved for general candidates opening the window for a Muslim to contest in the seat. Hence, Congress has fielded Hafeez Ahmed Choudhury and AIUDF has nominated Sahabul Islam Choudhury against BJP’s incumbent Kripanath Mallah. In the last Lok Sabha polls, defeated the Congress and AIUDF candidates by securing 471946 votes against AIUDF’s  434519 votes and Congress’s 120293 votes.

In Silchar, the other Barak Valley region constituency apart from Karimganj, Muslims constitute a significant size of voters. Reserved for the SCs, candidates in Silchar parliamentary constituency will have to depend on the swing votes of Muslims as the community constitutes nearly 40 percent of voters. AIUDF hasn’t fielded any candidate here but has extended support to Trinamool Congress (TMC) candidate Radheshyam Biswas who was an MP from the AIUDF party in 2014 from Karimganj seat.

In central Assam’s Nagoan parliamentary constituency, the dynamics have changed completely after delimitation. With the addition of four Muslim majority assembly constituencies from the erstwhile Kaliabor seat, Nagoan now has around 58 percent Bengali Muslim voters. The BJP bastion since 1999 was only unseated by Congress’s Pradyut Bordoloi in 2019 due to an alliance with Ajmal’s party. With 18,21,023 voters in the constituency, incumbent Bordoloi faces BJP’s Suresh Bora and AIUDF’s sitting MLA from Dhing Aminul Islam.

Similarly, in Darrang-Udalguri Congress’s major challenge comes from the AIUDF-supported BPF candidate. The now-called Darrang-Udalguri also has historical importance as this was the parliamentary seat where 72 percent of 36,000 people were marked as “doubtful voters” in 1979 during the revision of electoral rolls following the death of Janata Dal MP Hiralal Patowary from the erstwhile Mangaldoi parliamentary constituency. This led to the political unrest in Assam leading to massacres of Bengali Muslims in Nellie, Chaulkhuwa Chapori, etc areas.

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