Elephant or lotus? Assam voters confused about BJP-AGP tie-up

March 26th, 2009 - 11:41 am ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party By Syed Zarir Hussain
Digboi (Assam), March 26 (IANS) Dibya Tanti and Haren Bhumij, both elderly tea garden community members, are confused over the pre-poll tie up between Assam’s main opposition Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for next month’s parliamentary elections.

While Tanti is a die hard BJP supporter, Bhumij has long been an advocate of the AGP.

“I am told I should vote for the elephant (election symbol of the AGP), but all along I had stamped in favour of the lotus (BJP’s election symbol),” a perplexed Tanti told IANS in one of the roadside plantations near Digboi, the heart of Assam’s tea industry, about 500 km east of the state’s main city of Guwahati.

Same is the case with Bhumij, whose family resides in the eastern district of Jorhat.

“Why should I vote for the lotus, as I support the AGP,” Bhumij said with a confused look in his face.

As per the seat sharing arrangement, the AGP is fielding candidates in six of the 14 parliamentary seats, while the BJP is contesting in the remaining eight constituencies.

Convincing voters about the need to vote for the joint AGP-BJP candidates is turning out to be a headache for the two parties.

“It is true there are some confusion as people who had traditionally voted for the elephant or the lotus are finding it hard to reconcile to the new arrangement,” admitted Sarbananda Sonowal, AGP’s candidate for the Dibrugarh parliamentary seat.

“We are trying our best to clarify and drive home the need to vote for the AGP’s elephant as I am the common candidate of the two parties.”

Of the 1.1 million voters in the Dibrugarh parliamentary seat, an estimated 45 percent of the electorate is from the tea garden community.

Top leaders of AGP-BJP combine are hoping that vote transfer would be smooth - in the 2004 general elections, Sonowal won the Dibrugarh seat polling 220,000 votes, while the BJP came second with 202,000 and the Congress managed to get about 170,000 votes.

“I know it is not as simple as it appears when it comes to vote transfer. Let us admit this ground reality,” Sonowal said with a hint of bother in his face.

“But I am confident I will get support from all the communities.”

But Congress candidate and former central minister Pawan Singh Ghatowar is exuding confidence, more so because he belongs to the tea community.

Ghatowar’s mother was a former tea picker, while the veteran Congress leader himself worked in the gardens as a child to earn a living by removing caterpillars from tea bushes.

“Politics is not about arithmetic, but pure chemistry. The AGP-BJP combine is trying to add the vote share the two parties received separately in the 2004 elections and thinking that this time the transfer of votes would be natural… but they will be proved wrong,” Ghatowar said soon after addressing an election meeting in one of the tea estates.

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