In setback to Cong alliance, Assam candidate exits contest week before polling - Hindustan Times

In setback to Cong alliance, Assam candidate exits contest week before polling

Apr 01, 2021 07:02 PM IST

Senior Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma met the Bodoland People’s Front candidate on Wednesday evening and tweeted the first announcement about Rangja Khungur Basumatary’s switch around midnight.

A candidate of the Bodoland People’s Front, a constituent of the Congress-led alliance in Assam, crossed over to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and retired from the contest on Thursday. The switch, less than a week before the polling on April 6, is a setback for the Congress ally, Bodoland People’s Front, which hoped to retain the seat it had won in 2016.

Rangja Khungur Basumatary of the Bodoland People’s (Twitter/nstomar)
Rangja Khungur Basumatary of the Bodoland People’s (Twitter/nstomar)

The first confirmation about the BPF candidate Rangja Khungur Basumatary’s plans came in around midnight on Wednesday when senior Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said he had just wrapped up a meeting with the candidate. “He (Basumatary) has express(ed) his desire to join BJP and retire from the election,” Sarma tweeted.

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On Thursday, Basumatary, also known as Ram Das Basumatary, turned up at a BJP rally in his constituency to make the formal announcement in the presence of Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar.

The last-minute change has triggered howls of protest from the Congress which contended that the BJP had been trying to coerce rival candidates. The BJP isn’t trying to win the election, not with peoples’ votes but by breaking opponents with blackmail and threats, Congress leader Manish Tiwari said in Guwahati.

“We demand that the call records of Basumatary be made public so that the people of Assam also get to know what coercion, intimidation or what proposal forced him to join BJP,” Tewari said in Guwahati.

Rangja Khungur Basumatary can’t officially withdraw from the fray at this stage; the last date for withdrawing nominations was 22 March. But BJP leaders said his well-publicised announcement in the constituency will be enough to ensure that Leho Ram Boro of United Peoples’ Party Liberal, an alliance partner of the BJP, has a distinct advantage. To be sure, there are nine other candidates on this seat.

The BPF was a partner of the ruling BJP-led coalition in Assam along with Asom Gana Parishad. But things soured between the saffron party and BPF ahead of the election to Bodoland Territorial Council in December last year when BJP tied up with the UPPL and was able to come to power in the council which administers four districts in lower Assam.

For the state elections being held in three phases, the BPF teamed up with the Congress-led ‘grand alliance’ which also has the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) as a partner.

The BPF, which had won 12 seats in 2016, is again contesting the same number of seats this time.

There’s a keen contest between both BPF and UPPL in the four districts. While UPPL is contesting from 11 seats, its alliance partner BJP is contesting from 4 seats. Both parties will have ‘friendly contests’ in three seats.

The BJP’s Himanta Biswa Sarma, who played a key role in getting Basumatary on his side, has been accused by the Congress of threatening to send Bodoland Peoples’ Party (BPF) chief Hagrama Mohilary to jail. The Election Commission has asked Sarma to explain his comments in a media interview, in which according to the Congress, the Assam minister had threatened to use the National Investigation Agency against the BPF chief.

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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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