India

GAME OF VOTES: RAJYA SABHA POLLS IN ASSAM

Joydeep Hazarika for BeyondHeadlines

Horse Trading is the latest term that has captured the vocabulary of the Assamese people, all thanks to the just concluded Rajya Sabha elections in the state. Normally, election drama is mostly seen during the Lok Sabha or the state assembly elections. The Rajya Sabha elections have always been viewed as a laidback affair. But this time, the people of Assam witnessed a decent drama that only increases the bet for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

On Friday (February 7) the three candidates of the Congress-Bodo People’s Front (BPF) alliance won the Rajya Sabha polls while defeating Haidar Hussain, the common candidate of the Opposition. Now this would have gone off as just another sleepy Rajya Sabha election, but for the presence of the Raja of Amethi, Sanjay Singh, as one of the candidates. The other two winning canidates are Congress state president Bhubaneswar Kalita and BPF nominee Biswajit Daimary.

Singh’s candidature raised a furor among various outfits in the state as most people could not see a valuable seat go to another outsider. The other outsider who has been representing Assam in the Rajya Sabha for the last 23 years, is none other than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Outfits like the All Assam Students Union (AASU) and the Asom Jatiya Yuva Chhatra Parishad (AJYCP) cried out foul while accusing the Congress of dumping another unwanted pawn on Assam.

While a candidate from any part of India can contest for the Rajya Sabha from any constituency in the country, Singh’s candidature from Assam is being seen more as a compromise doled out to him by the Congress high command in view of his flirty nature with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Reportedly, Singh was unhappy that he had been denied a ministerial post in the cabinet and was toying with the idea of moving over to BJP, who could have pitted him against Rahul Gandhi in Amethi. Well, compromise or no compromise, Singh’s candidature raise a hue and cry and soon the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) too joined in the chorus demanding his removal from candidature.

What is interesting here is that the opposition parties in the state; the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), BJP and the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) together pitched eminent journalist Haidar Hussain as their common candidate. This opposition alliance was interesting particularly because the Hindu BJP and the Islamist AIUDF came together on an issue which is rare to see. Hussain’s position as a candidate was furiously discussed among the local media which began to weigh the pros and cons of his chances in the polls. While Kalita and Daimary remained safe in the contest, Hussain was pitted to oust Singh from representing the state.

Now what is an election in India if there is no news of horse trading or buying of votes in the entire process? Soon news came in of Congress trying to buy out MLAs from the opposition parties. While all the three parties denied any possibility of any of their MLAs being bought out by the Congress, internal exchanges allegedly continued to operate which showed their true colours on voting day. With hardly two days left for the voting, controversy erupted when it was found out that AIUDF legislator from Katigorah assembly, Ataur Rahman Mazarbhuyan may not be able to make it for voting as he was out in Saudi Arabia undertaking Haj pilgrimage. While party chief Badruddin Ajmal tried to calm down the panic within, the party itself remained unconvincing if Mazarbhuyan would be able to make it by D-Day.

While simple calculations assured the opposition of Hussain’s victory in the polls, it was ultimately the alleged horse trading that won the day for Congress, especially Singh.

On Friday, Mazarbhuyan failed to show up and six votes cast by the opposition in favour of Hussain were disqualified. A total of 125 votes were cast, out of which 119 were found to be valid. Both Kalita and Singh got 32 first preference votes and Daimary received 29 votes, while Hussain got 26. As per reports, of the rejected votes, one had a tick mark on it, while another was rejected because the legislator had used his own pen to cast the vote. As expected, the results created a whirlwind in the local media. The theory of the opposition MLAs being bought out was strongly suspected as none of the voters were first timers and they had cast their votes on earlier polls too.

Now comes the stage of retribution. AIUDF suspended Mazarbhuyan from the party for an indefinite period. Ajmal even went on to say before mediapersons that he deal between Congress and Mazarbhuyan has now become evident as the latter is slated to be appointed as the chairman of the state’s Madrassa committee. The AGP, on its part, expelled senior party MLA Padma Hazarika for six years on the grounds that being a senior politician it was not feasible to believe that he made an error while casting his vote. While the BJP claimed that all the votes cast by its MLAs were valid, the party’s legislator Prasanta Phukan came under controversy for allegedly showing off his ballot after casting it, to agents and observers of other parties while his own party observers were absent at that moment.

The only person to be unfazed by the poll results was Haidar Hussain himself. For him, it did not come as a surprise and he stated before mediapersons that the politics of the state has rotten beyond imagination.

Now the Rajya Sabha polls are over. Assam has got another outsider in the form of Sanjay Singh to represent it in the Upper House of the parliament. What do we take away from all this? Apart from the fact that Assam has become a dumping ground for unwanted characters within the Congress, the main opposition parties need to set their houses in order first. Congress may not show any interest of having more indigenous people from Assam to represent the state in the Rajya Sabha, but the prevailing corruption and greed among the legislators of the three opposition parties in the state is something to be tackled at the earliest. The Lok Sabha polls are just a couple of months away, and these parties really need to get their act straight if they want a decent number for entering the Lower House. Greed and corruption have had such a golden run in the past few days that even the combined effort of the Hindu and Muslim right wingers could not save the day.

It can’t be called as a pleasant surprise, but the people of Assam got to see an intense Rajya Sabha election. The general mood of the state is not happy on Sanjay Singh’s victory as Manmohan Singh’s parliament tenure did not bring in any welcome change to the state so far. Though I personally feel bad that a deserving candidate like Haidar Hussain could not make it to the Rajya Sabha, we can hope for some really action filled days as we tread closer to the Lok Sabha elections.

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