The tunnel on the Haflong-Lumding highway in Assam’s Dima Hasao (NC Hills) district (Morung Photo)
Will anti-incumbency be its undoing in Dima Hasao (NC Hills), Assam?
Morung Express Feature
Haflong | November 27
Grassroots karyakarta (workers) of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Assam’s Dima Hasao district (NC Hills) are in a tizzy. In 2019, their sole aim is to bag the one Member of Parliament seat they have between Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao which the Congress won in 2014. But the path is barbed.
Internal BJP research has shown that the Party may not win all the seats it won in 2014 through the country—many promises remain hanging in the air—making it pertinent to win all the seats it lost in 2014. 2019 will be more critical than 2014 because if Narendra Modi’s leadership “shakes” in 2019, workers fear it may set the BJP back by 10-15 years. Every seat matters.
Huddled in a room in Haflong town, a group of young political aspirants are discussing strategy. Politics is not in the Pink of health for the Saffron Party in the hills of Dima Hasao. In the 2013 Member of Autonomous Council elections, the BJP did not win a single seat. By 2016, however, the BJP had formed a government in the Dima Hasao (NC Hills) Autonomous District Council after several members defected to the national party.
Few promises were kept. 13 months have gone by since employees of the Council have been paid. Water, electricity, roads remain broken dreams; non Dimasa communities say they are marginalized. With “supreme power” bestowed by the Indian Constitution on the Council, no one wants to take a stand against it; here, even land belongs to the Council.
But the Nagas, and other non Dimasa people, of the district have taken a stand. They want the district bifurcated and a new autonomous council created; this is sought to be made possible under an autonomous state combining Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao under Article 244 (A) of the Constitution. In 2014, BJP leader Rajnath Singh promised such an arrangement if the BJP workers of Dima Hasao are able to win the MP seat for them.
Even as grassroots workers are trying, the Council’s hold over the Party is not helping.
“Tyranny is made worse because we are ruled by them,” says one Congress worker, from among the group huddled in the room, pulling the imaginary trigger of an imaginary gun. Leaders of the Dima Halam Daogah, in 2012, signed a memorandum of settlement with the Central and State governments, paving way for the Dima Hasao Autonomous Territorial Council and the leaders’ entry into mainstream politics. Many of them are sitting members of the current Council. “They are corrupt. They are the face of the BJP in the district. It doesn’t help the Party on the ground,” reflects the Congress worker.
The number game
The Dima Hasao Autonomous District Council is scheduled to go in for elections in early 2018. Despite much work on the ground by BJP karyakarta, a storm is taking shape.
Workers, along with their supporters (voters), are moving to the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) that is in alliance with the BJP government in Dispur (Assam’s capital).
“They will try to root out the incumbents by toppling the current Council, so they are joining the next most powerful party,” explains a BJP worker.
Couple of months ago, alleges the worker, the BJP leadership in Dima Hasao was changed to fall in line with the incumbent Council members. Several changes of executives and office bearers followed suit. It riled up senior and grassroots Party workers.
“Too much politics means no actual Party work gets done. In bringing 10 juniors, they will lose one senior which is big loss for the Party. If they sideline us and if 99% of the incumbents come to power in 2018, BJP will lose the 2019 MP elections in any case,” says a karykarta who has been with the BJP since 2002. This has to be averted.
During the last MP elections (2014), a Congress government was in power in the Council as well as the State. Even then, 33,000 people of the district voted for the BJP and 41,000 voted for Congress. In the Member of Assam Legislative Assembly elections (2016), 43,000 voted for Congress and 51,000 for BJP.
For the workers, “we have to take and keep the Congress voters in our hand too.” But for this, the BJP has to be seen to be doing things differently.
Youth for change
“The youth want changes—development of roads, bank facilities, phone network. We need leaders with modern, progressive outlook who also follow Party principle; it is not enough to club together a BJP ruled Council,” says an executive of the BJP in Dima Hasao, as he enters the conversation. People here don’t vote for the Party, they vote for the person, he asserts.
A leader of his people from Mahur constituency, with approximately 8000 voters, the young leader notes that it is not hard to get water and electricity to the villages. “There are plenty of central schemes to facilitate these, even if you are taking a small cut,” he laughs, hinting at the blatant corruption that has come to define the Council and, in its wake, the BJP.
The executive joined the BJP in 2014. He is roused by the changes he saw take shape since the Party came to power in Assam State. The Haflong-Lumding highway has progressed by leaps and bounds, and the Mahur national highway tunnel has become a monument—a picture here for travelers is essential. The BJP offers young people an opportunity for change through electoral politics, both at larger levels as well as at the grassroots. Regular workshops and meetings with Party leaders keep enthusiasm and action rolling.
“We are working hard to develop our district by forging new relationships with all peoples—Dimasa, Zeme, Vaiphei, Kuki, Karbi, Bengali etc. Given our work, 99% BJP sarkar will come to Dima Hasao Council in 2018 and we will get the MP seat in 2019. But this can happen only through the right people, not the currently elected leaders,” says the BJP executive.
The BJP once came to power riding on an anti-incumbency wave. Will it be its undoing in Assam’s hills?