Two Gogois battle it out to woo voters in Assam’s Jorhat - Hindustan Times

Two Gogois battle it out to woo voters in Assam’s Jorhat

Apr 11, 2024 01:07 PM IST

Jorhat, one of Assam’s biggest towns, had been a Congress bastion in the past. But since 2014, BJP has won this seat twice

Jorhat: It’s a Tuesday morning at Chenijan in Assam’s Jorhat, which means two markets in Assamese, and a motley crowd of young and old residents have gathered at the local community centre: They are waiting for Topon Kumar Gogoi, the sitting MP from the area, who has again been given the ticket by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the coming Lok Sabha polls.

BJP MP from Jorhat, Topon Kumar Gogoi, (seated) being felicitated by supporters at an election meeting. (HT photo/Utpal Parashar)
BJP MP from Jorhat, Topon Kumar Gogoi, (seated) being felicitated by supporters at an election meeting. (HT photo/Utpal Parashar)

The programme, the first engagement for the day scheduled to start at 9:30 am, gets delayed by around 45 minutes. Residents wait patiently. As soon as Gogoi’s convoy arrives, they cheer for him: A group of young Bihu performers welcome him with a Bihu song and dance.

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Gogoi, who has sustained a fracture on his right leg, alights from his vehicle gingerly and is taken to the stage in a wheelchair. Unable to stand and deliver his pitch for the waiting voters, he speaks from his chair, apologising to all.

“I have represented you for the past five years and if you shower your blessings again, I hope to continue doing that for another term. We don’t have any personal agenda; my victory would contribute to BJP winning 400 seats and make Narendra Modi the prime minister for the third time. That would help carry on the development we have undertaken in Jorhat,” the 55-year-old said.

Gogoi mentions about his sentimental attachment to the area as his maternal uncles are local residents; he speaks of how he contributed to getting the potholed road leading to Chenijan, located around 15 km away from Jorhat, repaired.

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Gogoi then spelt out the projects and schemes undertaken by the BJP governments at the Centre and in Assam for the region and said how his win will bring in more good news. Without mentioning his strongest opponent, Congress deputy leader in Lok Sabha, Gaurav Gogoi, the sitting MP concludes his speech and departs for his next pit stop for the day after clicking selfies with those present.

A former MLA from Sonari, who was the power minister in the state BJP government led by Sarbananda Sonowal until 2019 before getting elected to Lok Sabha, Gogoi is banking on BJP’s organisational strength and the many poll meetings held in the area by chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.

“We have benefited a lot from the schemes announced by the present government like Orunudoi, (which provides financial assistance of 1250 each month to nearly 2.6 million women) and Ayushman health cards (which provides health insurance cover of 5 lakh to per family per year). We need to make the BJP win again so that such schemes continue,” said Junumoni Baruah, a local woman.

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The other Gogoi’s pitch

In another part of Jorhat, Gaurav Gogoi too started his campaign trail for the day around the same time as his rival. Five public meetings, one road show and a meeting of Congress workers were lined up, each event scheduled for 30 minutes.

He starts with a public meeting at Jhanjimukh at 9:30 am but sticking to the deadline isn’t easy as party workers and enthusiastic residents jostle to present him with a traditional ‘phulam gamocha’ or click a selfie with him. By the time Gogoi reached Jelengitup, located 40 km from Jorhat town, it’s 2:30 pm, two hours behind schedule.

“People from Jorhat need to send a strong voice to Delhi to raise their problems there. Wherever I go, I am getting blessings from all,” he said while reminding all present about his father, former chief minister Tari Gogoi, who represented Jorhat thrice in Lok Sabha beginning 1971.

“No one has forgotten what my late father, Tarun Gogoi, did for the betterment of Jorhat and of Assam. When he became chief minister in 2001 there was an atmosphere of fear in the state (due) to the United Liberation Front of Asom (a terror outfit), government employees didn’t get salaries on time, teachers were protesting on streets. My father took charge and changed all that,” said the 41-year-old as the crowd cheered.

Gogoi reminded the audience how senior citizens in Assam receives only 250 per month while the BJP government at the Centre recently raised prices of medicines. He spoke of the Congress manifesto, which assures 1 lakh financial assistance each year to unemployed youth and promised to repeal Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) immediately after coming to power.

Gaurav had represented Kaliabor (renamed Kaziranga after last year’s delimitation) twice consecutively from 2014. This time the Congress leadership gave him the green signal for Jorhat.

Sitting BJP MP Topon Gogoi won in 2019 by margin of over 82,000 votes, defeating Congress MLA Sushanta Borgohain, who moved to the BJP in 2019 within months of winning the 2021 assembly poll.

Jorhat, one of Assam’s biggest towns, was a Congress bastion in the past. But since 2014, BJP won this seat twice. The constituency, which covers 10 assembly seats and an electorate of 1.7 million, faces many problems including bad roads and lack of drinking water in several areas. But voters seem to be mainly focused on the contest between the two Gogois.

“I am a neutral voter and not attached to any party. It’s a tough fight this time and BJP has a strong presence in our area. But this time the wind seems to favour Gaurav. I feel he is a better candidate to represent us,” said Pabitra Hazarika, a tea-stall owner at Kenduguri Chintamanigarh.

The ‘tea-tribe’ community factor

Significantly, both Gaurav and Topon, a former general secretary of the influential All Assam Students Union (AASU), are from the Ahom community, which had ruled Assam for six centuries. Ahoms comprise around 32% of the total 1.7 million voters in the seat and will be a crucial factor in deciding the outcome. Jorhat, which existed on both banks of the Bhogdoi river, was said to be the last capital of the Ahom dynasty.

The other community, which can play a role in the outcome is the tea-tribe community. The community was earlier strong supporters of Congress but have since switched sides to the BJP due to the welfare policies directed towards them.

Both Ahoms and the tea-tribe community (popularly known as Adivasis) are among the six communities in Assam, which BJP had promised in 2014 to grant scheduled tribe (ST) status but have failed to do so.

Of the 10 assembly seats in the constituency, seven have BJP legislators, two are represented by the Congress and one has an independent MLA. Gaurav’s father, Tarun Gogoi, had represented the Titabor assembly seat, which falls under Jorhat Lok Sabha constituency, from 2001 until his death in 2020.

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    Utpal is a Senior Assistant Editor based in Guwahati. He covers seven states of North-East India and heads the editorial team for the region. He was previously based in Kathmandu, Dehradun and Delhi with Hindustan Times.

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