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2019 Elections: Dhubri takes the identity, citizenship test yet again
The long-drawn general elections 2019 are almost over as we wait for the result day on May 23. While Assam voted during the first three phases of the Lok Sabha polls, the final phase of polling on May 19 at 59 constituencies across 8 states will seal the fate of the candidates.
In Dhubri, the polling was conducted on April 23. In 2014 general elections, Dhubri constituency recorded the highest voter turnout all over the country with 88.36 per cent votes. This election, 90.66 per cent voters voted in the constituency.
The high voter turnout in this border district is often due to the lurking fear in the mind of people of being marked as ‘D Voters’ or ‘Doubtful Voters’. D Voter is a unique category used for people in Assam whose citizenship is under suspicion. People marked as D eventually lose their voting right, and subsequently, their fate is left to the Foreigners’ Tribunals. FTs in turn decide, on the basis of documents, whether they are citizens of India or not. Once the people are declared ‘foreigners’, they are liable to be kept in detention camps. Most of the time, it takes years till the cases reach to the tribunal.
Out of 8 Legislative Assembly Constituencies (LACs) in Dhubri constituency, 3 LACs – Dhubri, Golakganj and Gauripur – have in total 7,516 D-voters cases pending till date. In all of Assam, citizenship of around 1.2 lakh people are marked doubtful.
Dhubri is a crucial constituency for many reasons. Apart from being in the centre-stage for housing alleged immigrants, Dhubri is also the place which witnessed the rise of Maulana and millionaire businessman Baddrudin Ajmal. In 2009, Ajmal rechristened his old political party, Assam United Democratic Front by changing its name to All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF). In the Lok Sabha elections held same year, Ajmal won the Dhubri seat by defeating Congress candidate with 1,84,419 votes; albeit considered a strong-hold of Congress. Earlier, Congress has managed to win five consecutive elections in Dhubri from 1991. The rise of AIUDF came as a massive blow to Congress, which had always relied on Muslim Voters as its ‘vote bank’.
However, 2019 Lok Sabha elections is a different game all together. BJP’s Ram Madhav has attacked AIUDF and Congress for forging an “Unholy Alliance”. AIUDF, which hoarded 14.98 per cent vote share by contesting in 10 seats (winning three) in 2014, has only fielded three candidates in this election. The party’s general secretary, Aminul Islam speaking to media said, “We have taken this decision so that the BJP does not benefit in any way. We want to ensure that the anti-BJP votes are not divided. They are a communal party.”
The decision, which might have heavy repercussion on the party’s future, however, did not stop Congress from fielding ‘strong’ candidates in the three constituencies. Having ‘betrayed’ by the Congress, AIUDF’s chief Ajmal said, “The sole motto of the Congress is to finish the AIUDF. The Muslim leadership of the Congress did not want the AIUDF and the Congress to get united at all. If that happened, their political future would have been finished.”
The MP from Dhubri later on added, attacking the Citizenship Amendment Bill, “In the interest of Assam, we are opposed to the bill and will continue to do so. I think the BJP has not understood that the issue has in fact damaged them.”
The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), which also finds its place on the official manifesto of BJP, might prove to be death knell for the BJP’s ambition for Northeast. First, when it was proposed by BJP in the Parliament, the whole of Northeast showed series of protest against the bill. The Joint Parliamentary Committee, which visited Guwahati and Barak Valley in Assam in May last year, met with voices of dissent in the former, while the nod of approval in the latter. To protest this bill, Asom Gana Parishad(AGP), an ally of BJP, broke its alliance in 2018. However in a U-turn, AGP came back in alliance with the BJP and BPF before the 2019 polls. The stand of AGP and BJP continue to be opposite with regards to CAB. In a joint press meet, AGP president said, “We might have different principles, but we have to resolve them through discussions.” The AGP election manifesto, published after the announcement of alliance, also stated that its stand on the CAB remains unchanged and will oppose any attempt to bring back the Bill.
BJP left three seats for its ally AGP – Kaliabor, Barpeta and Dhubri. From Dhubri, the candidate representing the alliance of BJP-AGP-BPF is ex MLA Zaved Islam. This seat is important for the alliance as if they win it, the BJP can play down its anti-Muslim image. The Congress has fielded former MLA from Golakganj, Abu Taher Bepari.
The panchayat elections held last year has given hope to Congress as they won 19 out of 24 Zilla Parishad Member seats, reducing AIUDF to mere four seats.
Interestingly, TMC has also entered the race and party’s supremo Mamata Banerjee flew to Dhubri to campaign for its candidate, Nurul Islam Chaudhary, a well-known litigator. In her speech, Mamata raised the issue of inhuman treatment in detention camps, NRC, and CAB. Questioning the process of NRC, she asked people, “If I cannot show the birth certificate of my father and mother. How could you?”
The politics of language is not new in Dhubri. Youths, who move out seeking jobs to Guwahati, often have to face slurs and shame for not being able to speak in Assamese. Dhubri, along with borders, share strong culture, social, linguistic roots with Bangladesh. The language spoken in Dhubri is close to the language spoken in Bangladesh. These similarities often make people from Dhubri suspicious of being “Bangladeshi”.