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STATE ELECTIONS 2006

Assam’s widow from Gujarat is AGP candidate

Thursday 6 April 2006, by KASHYAP*Samudra Gupta

Nalbari was once the hotbed of ULFA extremism, now the issues are poverty and development

NALBARI, APRIL 5: When Alaka Desai first came to Assam 23 years ago, arriving in Guwahati from Gujarat to work on a doctoral thesis on the Northeast, little did she imagine that she would one day contest an election here as the candidate of a regional party. And from Nalbari at that-the hotbed of ULFA insurgency in Lower Assam, a district where her husband, Nagen Sarma, fell victim to militancy six years ago.

Sarma, a prominent Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) leader and PWD and Forest Minister in the Prafulla Kumar Mahanta-led AGP government of the time, was killed in a massive explosion which ULFA had set off about 6 km away from this district town in February 2000. That was the incident which propelled Alaka into politics, with party and popular pressure urging her to step into her husband’s shoes.

??Politics is different here, in Assam’s poorest and most densely populated district,’’ says Alaka, also a prominent social worker who headed a major project of the Assam Mahila Samata Society a few years ago. ??Per capita income here is extremely low, land holdings are small, and even life expectancy at birth is alarming,’’ she adds.

During her student days, Alaka was an active member of the Chatra-Yuva Sangharsh Vahini, blessed by Jayaprakash Narain. After her husband’s assassination, she won the by-election to the seat his death rendered vacant, but later lost the 2001 election to a Congress nominee in the face of strong ULFA opposition to the AGP. At least six AGP workers were gunned down that year during the run up to the Assembly polls in the adjacent Dharmapur constituency, and people were warned against voting for the regional party.

Alaka does not want to recall the day the militants blew apart the vehicle in which her husband was travelling on that fateful Sunday. ??I have no grudge against them,’’ she says. ??I had announced this the very day they killed my husband. I am more concerned about solving the problems that have pushed a section of the youth into militancy. My constituency has at least 400 women who have been widowed by violent acts perpetrated by the militant groups.’’

In fact, in this district- which is so close to Bhutan that it shared a border with that country till the new Baska district was carved out of its northern areas-almost every locality has a woman who has lost her husband to the insurgency. The list cuts across language, ethnicity and religion, as ULFA and Bodo militants had turned Nalbari into a bloody killing field for over a decade until a few years ago. There are at least 150 hardcore ULFA cadres from this district, and they include big names like armed wing deputy C-in-C Raju Barua, finance secretary Sasha Choudhury and IED expert Rubul Ali.

This time the militants have announced they will not interfere in the poll process. But with candidates like Alaka in the fray, the authorities are not taking any chances. Over 5,000 security personnel are being deployed, police sources said.

See online : The Indian Express

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