Majuli, where BJP’s Sarbananda Sonowal will address a rally on Friday, is often referred to as Assam’s spiritual nerve-centre because of numerous satras or Vaishnav monasteries subscribing to the teachings of 16th-century saint-reformer Srimanta Sankaradeva.
Majuli assembly constituency is spread over a 540 sq km island in the Brahmaputra. The constituency has an electorate of 1.14 lakh, of whom 43,000 belong to the Mishing tribe.
The constituency has invariably had a Mishing representative. Rajib Lochan Pegu, the Congress candidate seeking re-election, belongs to this tribe unlike rival Sonowal, who is a Sonowal Kachari tribal from Dibrugarh district further east.
Majuli was never a VIP constituency until now; it is the focus of attention because of Sonowal, and the monastery abbots are behind him, trying to mobilise the 71,000 non-tribal voters.
These monasteries are symbolic of the erosion that threatens the island, which once measured 1,200 sq km. Since 1975, more than half of the 65 monasteries have shifted to the mainland while more than 9,500 families have lost their houses and paddy fields. The river has also washed away an estimated 100 villages in the past 40 years, locals say.
Apart from the lack of infrastructure, the main issue in Majuli is communication. It takes more than an hour for a ferry to reach the island from Neamati Ghat on the southern bank of the Brahmaputra.
The island has for long been promised a bridge linking it to both the banks. Locals hope the new representative keeps this promise.
Polling in Majuli will be held on April 4 - the first phase of the assembly elections.