Lok Sabha Elections 2024: BJP-AGP banks on 'demographic change' caused by delimitation to win Assam's Barpeta for the first time

BJP and AGP, which joined hands in 2016, have fielded Phani Bhushan Choudhury, eight-time MLA and a veteran AGP leader against Deep Bayan of Congress and Manoranjan Talukdar, a sitting MLA of CPI (M).
Last Updated : 26 April 2024, 17:33 IST
Last Updated : 26 April 2024, 17:33 IST

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"This time we will definitely win," Kandarpa Das, a supporter of regional Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) looked confident as he sat in his grocery shop here near Barpeta Satra, one of the oldest Vaishnavite monasteries in Assam. Madhab Dev, the disciple of Vaishnavite saint Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardev had set up the satra in the 15th-16th century and propagated Vaishnavism. When asked what makes him so confident about winning the Barpeta Lok Sabha seat for the first time, the 53-year-old Assamese Hindu trader simple said, "delimitation." "Now their number is less," Das said, while elaborating that the delimitation exercise, which was carried out only in Assam last year, made Barpeta a Hindu-majority constituency.

"Although Barpeta is a centre of Vaishnavite culture, large-scale settlement of Bangladesh-origin Muslims made it a Muslim-majority constituency over the years. This made the indigenous people politically weak here," he said.

BJP and AGP have never won the Barpeta Lok Sabha seat. Since 1952 (first general elections), Barpeta has elected Congress and CPI (M) candidates, barring in 2014 when Sirajuddin Ajmal, the brother of All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) chief Badruddin Ajmal, was elected to the Lok Sabha. In the 2014 and 2019 elections, BJP's Chandra Mohan Patowary and Kumar Deepak Das of AGP came second, respectively. Abdul Khaleque of Congress was elected in 2019.

But the "demographic change" brought in through the delimitation has made BJP and AGP confident about winning Barpeta for the first time. BJP and AGP, which joined hands in 2016, have fielded Phani Bhushan Choudhury, eight-time MLA and a veteran AGP leader against Deep Bayan of Congress and Manoranjan Talukdar, a sitting MLA of CPI (M). Keeping in mind the demographic change, Congress, which won the 2019 elections, replaced the sitting Khaleque with Deep Bayan, a Hindu, after many years.

Just before the first phase of polling on April 19, CM Himanta Biswa Sarma told reporters that they decided to field AGP candidates in Barpeta and Dhubri given the fact that AGP has a vote bank among the Muslims too. Dhubri, however, is still a Muslim majority constituency, from where Badruddin Ajmal was elected to Lok Sabha thrice since 2009 and is seeking re-election this time.

Ahead of the polling in Barpeta on May 7, both BJP and AGP are talking about BJP government's efforts to protect political rights of the indigenous Assamese, which according to them, was facing threat due to increase in the number of voters belonging to Bengali speaking Muslims. According to BJP leaders, Muslim population in Barpeta now stands at around 30 percent, compared to over 50 percent before the delimitation exercise was carried out.

The AIUDF, interestingly, has not fielded its candidate in Barpeta this time.

When asked about how delimitation will help BJP, Congress leader and a lawyer, Aman Wadud told DH, "CM Sarma has repeatedly stated that what NRC and Assam Movement couldn't achieve, delimitation will do. This only proves that delimitation was actually executed by the BJP and not by ECI. The BJP has curved constituencies based on religion to suit their agenda."

The CPI (M) candidate, Manoranjan Talukdar, however, believes Barpeta would defeat the "communal politics" of BJP and would vote for a secular candidate (him). "Hindus and Muslims in Barpeta have lived peacefully. But BJP is trying to sow the seeds of communalism. People will defeat that design," he said in a meeting. Uddhab Barman of CPI (M) was elected to the Lok Sabha from Barpeta twice in 1991 and 1996.

Barpeta goes for polling in the third and final phase in Assam on May 7.

Major candidates to watch out for:

Phani Bhushan Choudhury of AGP-BJP

Deep Bayan of Congress

Manoranjan Talukdar of CPI (M)

Total voters: 19,49873

Male: 9,88570

Female: 9,61303

2019 results:

Abdul Khaleque (INC): 6,45,173

Kumar Deepak Das (AGP): 5,04,866

Rafiqul Islam (AIUDF): 2,48,667

Published 26 April 2024, 17:33 IST

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