Time was when salt helped win elections in Arunachal Pradesh. Villagers would not settle for anything less than a bag of the highly prized commodity to cast their votes.
Though packets of iodised ‘saline gold’ are no longer a rarity in the hills of this frontier state, any contestant worth his salt has to allegedly buy his way to victory — in cash or kind. “Money rules here,” said Itanagar-based green activist Bamang Anthony.
Money allegedly held sway in CM Dorjee Khandu’s home district Tawang. The Congress won all three Assembly constituencies here — Tawang, Lumla and Mukto — uncontested, much before the final list of candidates aspiring to be in the 60-member House was declared.
Arunachal has 7,48,557 voters this time, an average of 12,476 per constituency. This is one-tenth the average number per seat in Maharashtra and Haryana, where elections will be held simultaneously on October 13. That doesn’t mean the contest is any less intense in this northeastern state.
The stakes for the Congress, which had a clean sweep of all the 60 seats in House last time thanks to crossovers, are quite high. Its primary challenge is ironically not from archrival BJP but the NCP and Trinamool Congress, its UPA allies. The multi-cornered contests have seen unprecedented violence.
Of the 154 candidates in the fray, the Congress has fielded candidates in the remaining 57 seats. The NCP is contesting 36, the Trinamool Congress 26, BJP 18, Peoples Party of Arunachal 11, JD (U) three and Independents three. The BJP had in 2004 contested 35 seats and won nine, all of whom joined the Congress later. The Congress in the last elections won 35 seats.
Some Congress workers feel the party’s choice of candidates could go against it. The party denied tickets to 14 sitting MLAs, 10 of whom became Trinamool Congress candidates while NCP fielded two. Congress did field former chief minister Gegong Apang from his pet Tuting-Yingkiong constituency despite differences with Khandu.