Candidates and campaigners in Assam are literally fishing for votes. They are also going bananas over a perennial poll issue – outsiders outnumbering the indigenous.
Assam has since the anti-foreigners agitation of 1979 been touchy about illegal settlers believed to dictate terms in six of the state’s 14 LS constituencies. But unlike the polls gone by, puns on popular edibles have replaced the bahiragata (outsider)-khilonjia (local) rhetoric.
Last week, chief minister Tarun Gogoi fired the first salvo against All India United Democratic Front chief Badruddin Ajmal.
Addressing a rally in Dhubri constituency bordering Bangladesh, Gogoi said: “You have tasted chalani fish for five years. I am sure you would like to eat the local fish you produce.”
Gogoi’s ‘fish’ was Ajmal, who hails from Hojai in central Assam but is MP from Bengali Muslim-dominated Dhubri. And Ajmal’s AIUDF, catering to minorities, is perceived to bat for Bangladeshis.
Ajmal retaliated in central Assam’s Kaliabor constituency, where the chief minister’s son Gourav Gogoi is the Congress candidate. “Gogoi dislikes chalani fish but relishes the dates and mangoes I gift him. Are these local fruits or chalani?” he asked.
Gourav tried fishing for support but came across as a fish out of water by saying he wanted to distinguish between a male fish and female fish to become an ideal fisherman. The people he interacted with pointed out determining the gender of a fish was not de rigueur for a fish farmer.
Gourav’s independent rival Jiten Gogoi too alluded to the aquatic animal. “I am a fish that lays millions of eggs silently, unlike a hen that lets the world know after laying just one egg,” he said, referring to the heavyweights.
Elsewhere, bananas became the metaphor for barbs. Campaigning for the Congress in Barpeta, Assam minister Nilamani Sen Deka called BJP candidate Chandra Mohan Patowary a ‘posa kol’ (rotten banana).
Patowary hit back in kind, terming it the language of a party that steps on banana peel. “The tongue is slipping before the feet do,” he said.