Assam bypoll: BJP wins India’s only ‘monsoon desert’ constituency, ups its tally to 61 seats
Dhemaji, suffering for decades from annual floods and desertification, is arguably India’s only ‘monsoon desert’ assembly constituency.india Updated: Apr 13, 2017 22:32 IST
The BJP on Thursday won the by-election to the Dhemaji assembly constituency, taking the party’s seat count in the 126-member Assam House to 61.
Dhemaji, suffering for decades from annual floods and desertification, is arguably India’s only ‘monsoon desert’ assembly constituency.
State election officials said BJP candidate Ranoj Pegu got 75,217 votes – 50.13% of the 150,029 votes polled – to defeat his nearest Congress rival Babul Sonowal by 9,285 votes. NOTA (none of the above) finished fourth behind Jadu Hazarika of CPI (Marxist) in the seat reserved for Scheduled Tribes. Two other contestants – Rajkumar Doley, an Independent and Hem Kanta Miri of Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist) – brought up the rear.
“My job of living up to expectations gets tough from now on,” Pegu said after officials announced his victory in Dhemaji town, 462km northeast of Guwahati.
Dhemaji, bordering Arunachal Pradesh, is one of Assam’s least developed districts and remains cut off for days because of annual floods. If that was not enough, sand deposited by the Brahmaputra and its tributaries has turned once-fertile farmlands into unproductive deserts.
“Massive areas in Dhemaji district have been turned into desert, where the original fertile land is 3-16 feet under sand, but a clear picture of the actual desertification is yet to be worked out,” Ravindranath of River Basin Friends, an NGO based at Akajan in the district, said.
The BJP, though, is focussing more on the political gain from the Dhemaji victory. Pegu, a major catch for the party, is expected to be included in chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal’s cabinet whose expansion is scheduled after the mid-April Rongali Bihu celebrations.
Before joining BJP ahead of the by-election, Pegu was the chief of Gana Shakti, a regional party with immense clout among the Mising tribal people. The party is in power in the Mising Autonomous Council currently headed by Pegu.
The run-up to the by-election was marked by friction between BJP and alliance partner Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), which said the saffron party’s decision to field Pegu was against the spirit of coalition. The AGP had threated to field its own candidate but backed off at the last minute.
The by-election to the Dhemaji assembly seat became necessary after it fell vacant last year. Baruah, a former Congress leader, had won the seat in the 2016 election, but vacated it after contesting and winning the Lakhimpur Lok Sabha seat, which in turn was vacated by Sarbananda Sonowal after he won the Majuli assembly seat last year.