April 07, 2016

India - Assam Assembly elections 2016 : Vote for peace (Editorial, The Telegraph, 7 April 2016)

The Telegraph, 7 April 2016, Editorial

Vote for peace

Voting in an election is an act of faith. There is something remarkable about the way people hope to change things through the vote. In a place like Assam, where ethnic insurgencies had long clouded elections, the people's faith in the ballot is particularly significant. The high turnout in the first phase of polling in Assam is yet another proof that the state is finally coming out of the shadows of ethnic militancy. One particular constituency that went to the polls in this phase captured the story of the change. The native village of Paresh Barua, founder of the United Liberation Front of Asom, falls within this constituency in Dibrugarh district. While most of his former comrades have joined the peace talks, Mr Barua continues to wield the gun. Voters in the constituency emphatically rejected his ways by recording an 85 per cent turnout. Mr Barua would do well to read the writing on the wall.

Tarun Gogoi, the chief minister, can legitimately take some credit for this change in Assam. The biggest challenge he faced during his three terms in office was to put an end to the insurgencies. But his government's record in reviving the state's economy did not quite live up to the people's expectations. The Bharatiya Janata Party and its main ally, the Asom Gana Parishad, this time pose the stiffest challenge that Mr Gogoi's party, the Congress, has faced in Assam in many decades. The BJP did remarkably well in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls in Assam, winning seven of the 14 seats. But the countrywide pro-BJP wave on the eve of those elections, generated largely by Narendra Modi's popularity, is now mostly a thing of the past. Also, the people may vote differently in parliamentary and state polls. For the BJP, though, Assam is the most important state for the current round of polls. In the three other poll-bound states - West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu - the party is only a minor player. Winning Assam could set the stage for the BJP's future campaigns in the east.