Debating India

ASSAM 2006

Up early for an uphill battle

Sunday 9 April 2006, by TALUKDAR*Sushanta

Barhampur

As he alights from his car with Black Cat commandos surrounding him, the sloganeering rises to fever pitch. "Prafulla Mahanta zindabad, vote for Prafulla Mahanta," the crowd screams. He’s on the stump, in Bengenaati village in his home constituency, Barhampur.

The scene is repeated time and again as the veteran politician goes around his constituency. But Mahanta, a seasoned politician who led the powerful anti-foreigners’ movement, cannot afford to be complacent this time round. His rivals have been "misleading" the voters about his new symbol: aeroplane.

"When you go to the polling stations on April 10, please keep in mind that my symbol is aeroplane and not elephant," he says at every election meeting. Before he leaves, Mahanta, attired in his trademark white shirt and white trousers, makes it a point to tell the workers of his new regional party, the Asom Gana Parishad (P) to canvass widely about the new symbol.

"Some people have been telling the voters that they would be voting for me if they voted for the elephant symbol [the AGP symbol]," he says, pointing to the model of an aeroplane at a campaign booth in Chothaibargaon.

The day begins at 5 a.m. for Mahanta with a quick breakfast of fruit, before party workers and campaign managers arrive at his Nagaon residence. After addressing six meetings, he breaks for lunch between 1.30 and 3 p.m. His mobile phone rings every now and then with candidates and others keeping him posted about the campaigning.

As the convoy rolls along the bumpy village roads, Mahanta stops every half-a-kilometre to address the waiting crowds and wave to people waiting for a glimpse.

Apart from Barhampur, the former Chief Minister is also contesting from Nagaon. "The Congress Government has failed on all fronts. It makes promises in the poll manifesto but never keeps them. The party has adopted a policy of divide and rule, but our party will build an Assam where all people, irrespective of caste, creed or religion, can live in peace and harmony," he says, appealing to the villagers to defeat the Congress candidates.

See online : The Hindu

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