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Ajmal shines as Congress betters show

The Northeast comprising eight states and 25 Lok Sabha seats has always been the Congress’ happy hunting ground. The party expectedly improved upon its 2004 electoral show, but a new political entrant catering to minorities in Assam stole the thunder.

india Updated: May 16, 2009 19:55 IST
Rahul Karmakar

The Northeast comprising eight states and 25 Lok Sabha seats has always been the Congress’ happy hunting ground. The party expectedly improved upon its 2004 electoral show, but a new political entrant catering to minorities in Assam stole the thunder.

With 14 seats, the regional concentration in Mandate 2009 was on Assam. It was the first time since 1996 that the Congress was up against a united Opposition – the hitherto factionalized Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and its electoral ally BJP. Then there was perfume baron Badruddin Ajmal’s minority-specific party, Asom United Democratic Front (AUDF), contesting its maiden LS polls.

Ajmal did emerge the star performer wresting Assam’s Dhubri seat from the Congress by a whopping 1.8 lakh votes. The Congress, on the other hand, bagged two seats less than the 2004 mark. It translated into a humiliating loss for Union minister Santosh Mohan Dev, who finished third in the Silchar seat that was won by BJP’s Lalit Mohan Shuklabaidya.

Another major setback for the Congress was the loss of the controversial Mani Kumar Subba. Aiming for a fourth straight win, he lost his Tezpur seat to the AGP’s Joseph Topno. It was to be the AGP’s only bright spot.

In fact, the BJP was the bigger gainer from the alliance with AGP bagging four seats – Silchar, Nagaon, Mangaldoi and Guwahati – compared to two in 2004. The alliance failed to help the AGP improve upon the 2004 performance, with both its sitting MPs losing.

“This election has been a setback for the Congress in Assam, and one of the reasons could be the polarization of votes between the pro-Hindu BJP and pro-Muslim AUDF,” said political analyst Prasant Rajguru.

The Congress, however, made up its loss in Assam with a clean sweep in Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur (two each) besides winning one seat each in Mizoram and Meghalaya. In the Arunachal West seat, Kiren Rijiju’s loss was a big blow to the BJP.

The CPI-M retained both seats in Tripura, arguably the last Left bastion. In the process, it underscored chief minister Manik Sarkar’s governance that left little room for complaint.

The NCP tasted the lone success with Purno A Sangma’s 28-year-old daughter Agatha winning the Tura seat while the Sikkim Democratic Front retained the only seat in Sikkim. Nagaland People’s Front (NPF) won the lone Nagaland seat; it also swept the four Assembly seats where by-elections were held after four Congress MLAs resigned.

Meanwhile, Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi admitted his party performed below par but was “happy with the overall result”. Ajmal, on the other hand, was non-committal about the possibility of allying with the Congress. “As of now, we are for a non-Congress, non-BJP front,” he said.