Stakes higher for Mahajot in final phase in Assam

Migrant Muslims call the shots in many of the Assembly seats going to the poll in this phase

When Mohammed Sanaullah, a retired soldier, casts his vote at the Koloikash Primary School under Chaygaon Assembly constituency on Tuesday, his mind will perhaps be on a faraway “hellhole” he had spent a week in, almost two years ago.

The Goalpara Central jail, one of six in Assam also serving as detention centres for “foreigners”, is about 100 km from his village west of Guwahati. Mr. Sanaullah was lodged in this detention centre after a Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT) declared him a non-citizen.

But he is more worried about the one to come — an exclusive detention centre at Matia about 25 km east of the Goalpara jail and under Goalpara East Assembly constituency. This centre is expected to house 3,000 people who don’t get reprieve from the FTs after exclusion from the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

“This election has perhaps been the most polarised, stoking the sentiments as well as fears of the minorities. We will be voting for dignity, to live without the tag of Bangladeshi or Miya or illegal immigrant,” Mr. Sanaullah told The Hindu on the eve of polling across 40 of Assam’s 126 Assembly seats.

19 lakh excluded

About 19.06 lakh out of 3.3 crore applicants were left out of the complete NRC draft published in August 2019. The government refrained from divulging the district-wise exclusion data, but it is believed that the bulk of the Brahmaputra Valley dwellers, mostly Bengali Muslims and Hindus, excluded from the NRC are from at least half the constituencies in the second phase.

The two main alliances fighting to run the next government have taken opposite stands on the issue of NRC. While the BJP-led alliance, unhappy with the outcome of the updating exercise, has vowed to come out with a “corrected” NRC, the Congress-led Mahajot, or grand alliance of 10 parties, said it will accept the NRC and issue identity card to every citizen.

Congress and its prime ally, All-India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), hopes its pro-NRC and anti-Citizenship (Amendment) act would see it through in most of the constituencies where migrant Muslims call the shots. Another ally, the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), hopes to retain eight of the 12 seats in the Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR) to “teach” friend-turned-foe BJP “a lesson”.

Issues of the minorities are partly a factor in BTR, where the fight is more for the control of a tribal council. The BPF yielded the council after a 17-year rule to the United People’s Party Liberal, the new ally of the BJP for the BTR.

The trio of Congress, AIUDF and BPF, which together won 25 of the 40 final phase seats in 2016, hopes to improve its show on the strength of five guarantees, including the scrapping of CAA. The BJP and its allies had enjoyed the upper hand in the first two phases covering 86 seats.

BJP hopes to surprise

The BJP and its ally Asom Gana Parishad, which had won 15 of these seats in the last elections, are confident too. “Going by the vote share in the 2019 Parliament elections, we expect to spring a surprise in some minority areas,” State BJP president Ranjeet Kumar Dass, contesting the Patacharkuchi seat, said.

The key candidates in this phase are BJP Ministers Himanta Biswa Sarma (Jalukbari seat) and Chandra Mohan Patowary (Dharmapur), AGP Minister Phani Bhushan Choudhury (Bongaigaon) and BPF Ministers Pramila Rani Brahma (Kokrajhar East) and Chandan Brahma (Sidli).

There are a total of 7,875,468 voters, including 3,882,962 women and 140 transgenders, in the third phase. The first two phases of polling across 47 and the 39 Assembly seats had seen a turnout of 79.97% and 80.96% respectively.

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