Jhalmuri is a spicy snack as popular as phuchka, or golgappa, in Bengal and adjoining areas of Assam. Baharul Sheikh who sells jhalmuri, hopes this tangy puffed rice mixture, which he gives away for free while campaigning, will make him popular enough to be in the assembly.
Baharul, 32, is the Rashtriya Secular Congress candidate from western Assam’s Dhubri assembly seat. He is one of the poorest among the 525 candidates contesting in the 61 seats, where second-phase polling is underway.
“I am contesting because only the poor can understand the problems of the poor and try to do something about it,” said Baharul. “I know the big parties will buy votes, but I have only jhalmuri to give people I come across while campaigning.”
His rivals include Union HRD minister Smriti Irani’s maternal uncle, Debamoy Sanyal, whom the BJP has fielded again. Irani’s grandmother, Agomoni Sanyal, is based in Dhubri.
Irani, unlike last time, has not campaigned for her uncle. “I hope people vote for change this time,” said Debamoy Sanyal.
Baharul, a school dropout, fancies his chances because 70% of the voters are Muslim. But he is wary of perfume magnate Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), which wrested the seat from Congress in 2011.
North of Dhubri, bordering West Bengal, is the Gossaigaon assembly constituency where the AIUDF is banking on the unlikeliest of candidates — a Telugu-speaking businessman from Andhra Pradesh’s Vishakhapatnam district.
Ravi Sankar Kasireddy, 40, came to Srirampur, on the Assam-Bengal border, with his father’s friend to join a transportation business. His success and sociable attitude earned him the AIUDF ticket from Gossaigaon, which falls in the Bodoland Territorial Council and has usually been represented by either a Bodo tribal or an adivasi, who are more in number.
“Mine is the only Telugu family in this constituency and my candidature speaks volumes of the assimilative nature of Assam,” said Kasireddy, who has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Andhra University.
Kasireddy too hopes to sail through on the strength of Muslim voters, who have gravitated towards the AIUDF after a series of communal riots since 2012. But he knows incumbent Majendra Narzary of Bodoland People’s Front, a BJP ally, and Ashim Hasda of Congress are strong contenders.