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Straight contest between BJP, Cong in 2nd phase
Pranjal Bhuyan

 GUWAHATI, April 13 - The main contest in four out of the five constituencies of Assam, which will go to the polls in the second phase of the Lok Sabha election on April 18, is expected to be between the ruling BJP and the principal Opposition party Congress, while the Karimganj seat is likely to witness a three-cornered fight.

Karimganj, Silchar, Autonomous District (Diphu), Nagaon and Mangaldai constituencies are going to the polls in the second phase.

In the last parliamentary election held in 2014, the BJP had emerged victorious from Nagaon and Mangaldai seats, while the Congress had won from Silchar and Diphu, while Karimganj had gone to the AIUDF.

Unlike 2014, this time the BJP has an alliance with the AGP and the BPF, as well as with three other smaller local parties.

As part of the seat-sharing arrangement among the partners of the ruling NDA, the BJP has fielded its own candidates in all the five constituencies scheduled to vote in the second phase.

On the other hand, AIUDF’s decision not to contest from a majority of the constituencies for the coming election is expected to benefit the Congress in Silchar, Nagaon and Mangaldai, among the seats which will vote in the second phase.

The five constituencies going to the polls in Phase Two have a sizeable segment of voters belonging to the minority community.

While the AIUDF received a substantial number of votes of the minority community in 2014, the Badruddin Ajmal-led party’s decision to refrain from contesting a majority of the seats this time is likely to swing a huge chunk of minority voters towards the Congress.

The possibility of polarisation on religious lines in some of the constituencies cannot be discounted.

While Bengali-speaking Hindus and Bengali-speaking Muslims dominate both Silchar and Karimganj constituencies, the Diphu seat is dominated by Karbi and Dimasa communities, besides having significant number of electorate belonging to other indigenous ethnicities as well as Assamese and Bengali voters.

There is high concentration of minorities, besides Bengali Hindus and Tiwa community voters, in Nagaon. Similarly, Mangaldai has a large segment of minority community voters as well as good number of electorate belonging to the Bodo community, among others.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Radheshyam Biswas of AIUDF had defeated his nearest rival Krishna Das of BJP by a margin of over 1.02 lakh votes in Karimganj constituency. The Congress party came third in that election by securing over 2.26 lakh votes.

Karimganj is one of the only three constituencies from which the AIUDF has fielded its own candidate this time.

It is also the only Lok Sabha seat in Assam reserved for Scheduled Caste (SC) candidates.

In the run-up to the polls, there were reports about sitting MP Biswas hobnobbing with the Congress and speculations were afloat that AIUDF may drop him. However, in the end, Biswas was re-nominated by AIUDF.

BJP has nominated Deputy Speaker of the Assam Legislative Assembly Kripanath Mallah as its candidate for the seat, while the Congress nominee is Swarup Das.

Last year’s panchayat polls saw the AIUDF losing some of its earlier support base in the areas falling under the Karimganj Lok Sabha constituency.

BJP would be hoping for a division of minority votes between the Congress and the AIUDF to sail through in the parliamentary polls. In a field of 14 candidates, the constituency is likely to witness a triangular contest among the Congress, the BJP and the AIUDF.

In 2014, Congress nominee Sushmita Dev had defeated her nearest BJP rival Kabindra Purkayastha by a margin of over 35,000 votes in Silchar.

AIUDF had then secured over 85,000 votes in the constituency. Congress will hope to be the recipient of the Ajmal-led party’s vote base this time.

While Congress has re-nominated incumbent MP Dev, BJP has fielded a ‘new face’ Dr Rajdeep Roy, who is considered very popular among the ‘saffron crowd’.

Silchar could turn out to be the perfect place for BJP to attempt its ‘Hindu consolidation’.

The issue of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill or CAB is likely to be a major factor in Silchar, as well as in neighbouring Karimganj. Dev, at times, took a divergent stand from her party’s on the CAB issue.

Dr Roy and Dev are the main contenders for the constituency, among the 13 candidates who are in fray. Diphu is one of the two constituencies of Assam reserved for Scheduled Tribe (ST) candidates.

Congress’ Biren Sing Engti had won the seat for his party in 2014 by defeating Joy Ram Engleng of the BJP by a margin of over 24,000 votes.

However, since then, the Congress has suffered a number of setbacks in the constituency, with many of its local stalwarts defecting to the BJP. The saffron party has taken control of both the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council (KAAC) and the North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council (NCHAC).

There is local anti-incumbency against Engti, who has nevertheless been once again allotted the party ticket. BJP has in the meantime fielded a new face in Haren Sing Bey.

The main contest is expected to be between the Congress and the BJP. However, in a field of five candidates, ASDC nominee Holiram Terang is also expected to do well in some pockets of the constituency.

Both BJP and Congress have fielded new faces in Nagaon this time.

The ruling party denied re-nomination to its sitting MP and Union Minister Rajen Gohain, who had defeated Jonjonali Baruah of Congress by a margin of over 1.43 lakh votes in 2014.

While the AIUDF had secured over 3.14 lakh votes in the constituency, the AGP had received over 35,000 votes in Nagaon during the last parliamentary polls.

Gohain had managed to win the constituency for the BJP since 1999 during four consecutive elections.

This time, BJP has nominated Rupak Sarmah for the seat and Congress has fielded former minister Pradyut Bordoloi.

It will be interesting to see how much of the AIUDF’s traditional minority votes swings to the Congress and whether the grand old party will be able to break the two decades-old hold of the BJP over the constituency.

Besides, the role of the Bengali Hindu electorate, who solidly backed the BJP in the last four parliamentary polls, will also be crucial. In a field of seven candidates from the constituency, a direct contest is expected between Sarmah and Bordoloi.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Ramen Deka of BJP had won from Mangaldai constituency by defeating his nearest Congress rival Kirip Chaliha by a margin of over 22,000 votes. AIUDF had then secured over 74,000 votes and AGP had polled over 66,000 votes in the constituency. Both BJP and Congress have changed their candidates for the coming polls.

BJP dropped Deka and gave candidature to Dilip Saikia, a member of the party’s ‘youth brigade’, while Congress has fielded its veteran leader and Rajya Sabha member Bhubaneswar Kalita from the constituency.

With a substantial segment of the constituency’s electorate belonging to the minority community, the electoral battle in Mangaldai will depend a lot on how well the Congress and the BJP manage to ensure transfer of the traditional vote bases of the AIUDF and the AGP respectively to their own side.

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