Assam Assembly Election 2021: Fissures in Raijor Dal as 'secret' Congress role in Jorhat, Mariani emerges
The chaos and confusion within Raijor Dal in Jorhat and elsewhere has brought back the importance of the tenets of discipline, transparency and no holds barred communication in the functioning of a political party
Hopes rise and fall quickly in the field of politics. When you add to that the triumvirate of mistrust, conspiracies and opacity, it becomes all the more difficult to sift truth from myth.
The sudden withdrawal of candidature by Raijor Dal chief Akhil Gogoi from his hometown Mariani constituency, which is a satellite town of Jorhat, has shocked many including party members and has literally put their faith in the party leadership on a test. Although the Raijor Dal has officially claimed that they are determined to allow anti-BJP forces to win, the manner in which the party handled the situation has led to more questions than answers.
In collusion with Congress?
"Either in December last year or January this year, a Raijor Dal office was set up in Mariani. The first committee in Mariani was supposed to be formed on the same day but it did not happen due to a serious altercation among party members at the venue itself. On the same day, Dibya Jyoti Sharma, the Raijor Dal president in Jorhat district said if the incumbent Congress MLA Rupjyoti Kurmi fights the election from Mariani, the party won't put up any candidate from there," said a source who is a part of the Raijor Dal.
However, on 8 March, Akhil Gogoi submitted his nomination from Mariani and Sivasagar only to withdraw from the Mariani seat on 11 March leading to immediate suspicion that the party had compromised its position with the Congress as Kurmi had filed his nomination on 9 March. Interestingly, Kurmi's nomination was found to be in order on 11 March itself while the nomination of Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) Mariani candidate Alok Kumar Ghose was cancelled on 10 March as it was surprisingly found to be incomplete twice. This literally leaves Kurmi to get elected unchallenged as BJP candidate Ramani Tanti is not known to be a strong contender.
Apart from the Mariani U-turn, the disappointment within the ranks of Raijor Dal in Jorhat for not putting up a party candidate is so high that a section of the leaders and workers have kept an option open to approach the top brass of the party to express their displeasure.
"We will decide on that after 2 May (after counting of votes). We are not doing it before the polls because we are trying in a calm and cool manner to help at least two party candidates in Teok and Dergaon to win the election. The importance of a written protest now won't be high because the people who can make decisions in the party are all busy with the elections. This is not internal bickering but I think we should still let our displeasure known to the higher-ups of the party regarding this immature decision of not putting up a candidate in Jorhat and even withdrawing from Mariani. We want to keep the party secure for the future. That's why we are together," said Dilip Kumar Bordoloi, working president, Raijor Dal, Jorhat district.
"We are also waiting for the results because we might be wrong. Right now we are thinking that the party made a mistake by not putting up a candidate in Jorhat. But we cannot say they are wrong until the results are officially out. Our aim is to protect the anti-CAA fraternity. With this aim, we had strengthened the base of the party considerably," Bordoloi said.
Tempers within the party are high because the sudden withdrawal of candidature from Mariani has affected the morale of the party deeply. Even a seasoned political party won't dare to demoralise its cadres right before the election.
"This withdrawal of nomination from Mariani is nothing but a farce as it was already decided more than two months back that there will be no candidate in Mariani. In fact, in all the party meetings the Jorhat party president never insisted on Mariani for one reason or the other. The talk is that around Rs 6-7 lakh was spent by Raijor Dal in both constituencies which was actually funded by Congress. The covert gameplan of those who initiated such a move is that people who joined Raijor Dal in Mariani and Jorhat constituencies will now vote for Congress since the party has no candidate of its own. The official line is of course to vote for an anti-CAA party," the source said.
The allegations are not from the blue as party members are seeking to "link up" events over the last couple of months that led to today's circumstances. Few days before the party tickets for candidates were distributed, the Raijor Dal held a party meeting in Jorhat and the expectation was that 2,000 people will attend but ultimately only 40 turned up.
"There was no communication at all about the meeting to anyone even on WhatsApp groups. It was evident that the meeting was held with the intention to make it a failure. Just before that, a member of the party minority cell who promised 32,000 votes from the minority community for the party was suspended from Raijor Dal on frivolous grounds," the source said. "Jorhat was really good for us. We had 40,000 people with us right from joining. We would have been in a position to put up a fight if we had gone out all guns blazing during campaigning. But the party decided not to put up any candidate in Jorhat," the source said.
Congress has however denied any covert understanding with Raijor Dal.
"It is not right to say that Raijor Dal was going to withdraw their candidate from Mariani in order to favour me. I think even Akhil Gogoi didn't know before that he was going to fight the elections. In all likelihood, he took the decision at the last moment," said incumbent Congress MLA and candidate from Mariani Rupjyoti Kurmi. The MLA did not answer when asked if any financial assistance to Raijor Dal was made available from Congress.
Bordoloi is uncomfortable with his party's proximity with Congress on the so-called anti-CAA ideology.
"The party might be thinking that if Rana Goswami, who is the Congress candidate from Jorhat wins, then the seat will go to an anti-CAA party. But the fact of the matter is we cannot trust Congress blindly. Maybe Congress will try and delay the implementation of CAA. This is the only similarity we have with Congress and nothing more," he said.
What is interesting is that Dibya Jyoti Sharma, who was supposed to be the Raijor Dal candidate in Jorhat, is finding himself in the eye of the storm. Although Sharma has expressed his disappointment over the party's decision to not allow him a ticket from Jorhat before the party workers, many within the party itself are finding it hard to take him at face value.
"In fact, we allowed Dibya Jyoti Sharma, who was supposed to be our candidate to take the lead in all the events we held in the district. There is a serious whisper among different party ranks in Jorhat that the proposed Raijor Dal candidate from the constituency was in hands and gloves with the Congress. In a recent internal meeting, Sharma was asked to come clean on his own or else be ready to face the media on 2 May. Importantly, he was evasive about the source of funds that the party used in the last two-three months," said Bordoloi.
Caught in the maelstrom of serious accusations, Sharma, who is an associate of Akhil Gogoi since his Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti days, is struggling to defend himself.
"We have not got any help from Congress. I am not aware of any funding from Congress. If any such thing has happened, we will give a clarification. There may be rumours about that. I won't deny that we had built a good foundation for our party in Jorhat and was making good progress. In that context, it is natural for people to be suspicious. Whatever we did is for the betterment of the Assamese community. Yes, it is true that we are trying to prevent the division of anti-BJP votes and that way we might be consolidating Congress. Congress is not helping us. In fact, in Mariani Rupjyoti Kurmi made a section of our cadres join the Congress. There is a possibility of a similar move in Jorhat as Congress is making inroads into our party," he said.
"The thing is that the ultimate sacrifice is being made by Akhil Gogoi himself. We indeed created a base in Jorhat but we feared that if the fight becomes triangular our main rival might triumph," Sharma said.
For now, Sharma is having support from the general secretary of the Raijor Dal, Jorhat unit but for how long?
"The central committee of our party decided not to put up any candidate in Jorhat to prevent the BJP from winning the seat. Akhil Gogoi wanted that there should be only one anti-BJP candidate but AJP has given a candidate in Jorhat. So had we put up a candidate as well then the anti-CAA votes would have got divided. Our decision to not place a candidate in Jorhat is strategic. It will be wrong to accuse us of match-fixing with Congress whether it is Mariani or Jorhat. It is not about fighting the polls, it is about winning," said Suryamohan Das, general secretary, Raijor Dal Jorhat unit.
The disconnect within
The chaos and confusion within Raijor Dal in Jorhat and elsewhere has brought back the importance of the tenets of discipline, transparency and no holds barred communication in the functioning of a political party.
"The Raijor Dal is not an organised well-oiled political machinery. The administrative system lacks the maturity of an ideal political party. There is little coordination between the state and district level committees. Ideally, this should exist right up to the booth level. The higher-ups in the party hardly pick up calls when we call them. The state committee holds too little discussion with the district committees on various matters. At our level in the Jorhat district, we have maintained cordial ties right up to the booth level but we cannot say the same when it comes to our coordination with the state central committee," Bordoloi said.
The lack of coordination was evident when the Teok candidate avoided the Jorhat district Raijor Dal office completely while filing his nomination papers despite members of the unit waiting for the candidate to accompany him in a procession.
"On 9 March, members of the Jorhat district committee waited at the party office for the Teok candidate (only party candidate in Jorhat district) to arrive so that they can start their journey together to the deputy commissioner's office to submit the nomination paper after paying homage to the five anti-CAA martyrs. But to our utter surprise, the candidate went straight to the deputy commissioner's office to submit the nomination paper completely ignoring us. It was only at 3 pm that we discovered that the candidate won't come to the district committee office," Bordoloi said.
"We worked very hard for the last few months to build a foundation for the party in the district. We even campaigned for Prabin Das who got a ticket to contest from the nearby Dergaon constituency which falls in Golaghat district. But when candidates ignore us in this manner just before the election it is very depressing and distressing," he said.
With Kabindra Chetia Phukan, the Raijor Dal Teok candidate also being one of the three working presidents at the state level, choosing to sideline the Jorhat district committee, this has ended up causing more heartburn. The three working presidents at the state level are critical for the functioning of the party as party chief Akhil Gogoi is in jail for more than a year for various charges including sedition and inciting violence during the movement against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act agitation in the state.
"All the hard work, rent for party office, fuel expenses, an enormous investment of time simply stood for nothing. The attitude of the state committee is also responsible for this. If the party chooses someone to fight the polls then the ticket should be granted through the district committee and not directly. For that reason, both the Congress and BJP candidates formally went from their respective district offices to submit their nomination papers. Neither a state-level leader bothered to call us to tell us to help the candidates nor the candidate fighting from the Teok seat requested us to help him. This has completely dejected the district team ahead of the polls on 27 March," Bordoloi said.
The decision to have friendlies with Assam Jatiya Party, another political offshoot from the state's anti-CAA agitation has only perplexed the party workers even further.
"We are having a friendly contest with AJP in eight seats out of the 27 constituencies where we have put our candidates. There should not have been any friendlies with the AJP. The central poll committee of the party has taken an unfortunate decision in this regard. That is the truth," said Das.
Hard road ahead
Raijor Dal is facing its first electoral battle in less than six months of its formation. With Raijor Dal failing to secure a symbol for its own, party president Akhil Gogoi will contest from Sivasagar as an Independent candidate with the LPG cylinder as the symbol signifying his protest against BJP for rising cooking gas price. It is up to him how he can keep the cylinder safe from exploding at home and turning Raijor Dal to ashes.
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