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Battle for the minority, tea garden vote begins in Assam

Tuesday, October 12, 2010 02:14:34 PM, Syed Zarir Hussain, IANS

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Guwahati: With assembly elections in Assam due next year, political parties have already started wooing minority Muslims and tea garden workers for their prized votes.

The state's main opposition Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), for instance, held a crucial meeting of its minority cell chaired by party president Chandra Mohan Patowary.

The party, making a desperate attempt to win the polls after facing humiliating defeats at the hands of the Congress party in the past two assembly elections in 2001 and 2006, discussed how to attract Muslims, tea garden workers, Nepali speaking settlers, besides smaller ethnic groups.

"The minorities in Assam have faced discrimination and remained a neglected lot at the hands of successive Congress governments and it is time to reverse the trend with the AGP making a firm commitment to work towards the overall development of these communities," senior AGP leader and party general secretary Atul Bora told IANS.

Muslims account for about 30 percent of Assam's 30 million people and hold the key to winning or losing an election in about 40 constituencies.

The tea garden workers' community, fighting to be accorded the status of a Scheduled Tribe which will give them reservation benefits in jobs and educational institutions, makes up about six million people. Most of these work in the state's 800-odd tea plantations.

The four million strong tea garden voters hold the key to winning any elections in about 32 of Assam's 126 assembly constituencies.

Muslims and tea garden workers are traditionally believed to be supporters of the Congress in the state.

"The Congress party had duped the minorities for long years and it is time they realise and give us a chance to ensure a comprehensive growth for them," the AGP leader said.

The Congress party termed the AGP's pledge a pre-poll gimmick.

"All of a sudden from nowhere the AGP is trying to become the messiah of the minorities. People of Assam are not fools and know very well their designs," Congress leader Abdul Khaleq said.

"For long, the tea communities were with the Congress as we are the only party to have always espoused their causes and taken care of their welfare," Bhagirath Karan, a tea community leader and head of the party's tea garden cell, told IANS.

But the presence of the Asom United Democratic Front (AUDF), led by perfume baron Badruddin Ajmal, that won 11 seats in its first outing in 2006, is surely pose a problem for the Congress to keep its minority base intact.

The AUDF claims to espouse the cause of the minority Muslims.

"The Congress always plays the vote bank politics by trying to woo the Muslim and tea garden community votes, but this time we are surely going to cut into their traditional base by getting the support of the tea garden votes," Bharatiya Janata Party leader Kamakhya Prasad Tassa said.

Elections to the 126-member assembly are scheduled for early next year in Assam.




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