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Jumbo task for Mahanta after flying solo

india Updated: Apr 11, 2011 10:01 IST
Rahul Karmakar

Ajit Goswami, 37, of Dimruguri village under the Barhampur assembly constituency is relieved that Prafulla Kumar Mahanta is no longer 'flying solo' and is "back riding the elephant".

'Flying solo' refers to the aircraft symbol Mahanta had used in 2006 after forming the breakaway Asom Gana Parishad (Pragatisheel). The former chief minister was his party's only winner. The 'elephant' is the symbol of the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) to which Mahanta returned following reunification of all splinter groups of the party in 2008.

Five years ago, Mahanta's Pragatisheel stopped the AGP's expected progress. The AGP felt the pinch more in central Assam's Nagaon district that has the most assembly seats - 11, including Mahanta's pocket borough Barhampur.

But the Congress couldn't capitalise on the split of AGP votes, winning only two seats.

Perfume baron Badruddin Ajmal's All India United Democratic Front won four, while the BJP bagged one.

Mahanta has never lost Barhampur since 1985, the year he had founded the AGP after leading a six-year anti-foreigners Assam Agitation. The buzz about Mahanta's return to 'elephant back' is ironically more among migrant Muslims, the community that the movement he spearheaded had targeted three decades ago.

"Contrary to what others say, Mahanta is a friend of the minorities," says Nur Islam, 27, of Karoiguri. Many in the former CM's home district also do not hold any grudge against him for the "secret killings" (1997-2000) that involved elimination of rebels and their kin, allegedly under government supervision.

"People are too smart to know the Congress is playing up the so-called secret killings to retain power," says Dhrubajyoti Sarma, 55, of Nagaon, 123 km east of Guwahati. He also points at Mahanta's rival Suresh Borah, a former militant and alleged extortionist, in Barhampur to underscore the 'Congress culture' of promoting the 'criminally-inclined'.

Mahanta is expected to sail through in Barhampur in phase 2 (for 64 seats) of the polls to be held on April 11, but knows he is up against a formidable Congress opponent in forest minister Rockybul Hussain in Samaguri constituency.

The bigger picture for Mahanta is making the AGP count in Nagaon and rest of Assam and that would be a jumbo task for him.