News & Information From Northeast India

Election campaigns in Assam: High on rhetoric, low on content

Election campaigns are opportunities for candidates to put forth their views and policies in front of the public. It is also a parameter of gauging public support. These are instances when leaders can send across important messages, highlight their party’s stand on crucial issues and also appeal to voters and convince them as to why they should vote for them.

While manifestos detail out their vision, campaigns and electoral rallies can be used to give a glimpse of what ruling parties have achieved and what alternative opposition parties promise. But every year during elections we witness something different. Electoral campaigns are used only to malign opponents. Politicians engage in trivial issues, at times instigate supporters and even use un-parliamentary language while attacking their opponents.

At the national level, we are witnessing violation of model code of conduct by a large number of politicians. The ruling party is seen comfortable with a web series, a film and a TV channel being run in the name of the PM. While many newspaper reports have time and again pointed out that rules were flouted, the party in power did not behave in a responsible way.

Questions are being raised about the role of the Election Commission as well. However the EC did respond by objecting to use of armed forces for political propaganda and in an interesting move stopped the release of a biopic made on the current prime minister. While the EC’s decision has been challenged by filmmakers as a violation of freedom of speech and expression, many believe that it was a right move as the movie would have given an advantage to the ruling party.

Assam is no exception. Poll campaigns in Assam also often move far away from issues and get entangled in trivial, superficial debates. Candidates are already busy mudslinging. Campaigns are out and out vitriolic. Abuses and counter-abuses are often the order of the day.

A few days back the BJP candidate for Tezpur, Pallab Lochan Das, got into a spat of words with his opponent MGVK Bhanu of Congress. Das, the ex labour minister, indulged in a personal attack calling Bhanu an old cow. He further retorted that when he was a minister, Bhanu, an ex-IAS officer, called him ‘sir’. Such lame statements show that politicians take their voters for granted.

Das belongs to the Tea Tribe of Assam, a community which comprises almost 17% of the population but continue to languish in backwardness. Some serious allegations have surfaced against Das. The Joint Action Committee for Tea Tribe Wage Workers have stated that while Pallab Lochan Das was the chairman of the Wage Hike Advisory Committee, he went against the interest of the workers and sided with the tea garden owners. This is the reason as to why the tea garden workers are yet to get a wage hike. But Das’s electoral campaigns failed to show any conviction on this serious issue.

But not only Das, popular leader and finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s dance during a rally also became very popular. While one should not have any objection to how a leader engages with his supporters, it does divert news media from real issues. The political discourse takes a nose dip and we are busy discussing the dance moves of a leader in a greater detail than the issues his party espouses.

Such trivialisation is seen across the spectrum. AIUDF supremo Maulana Ajmal is also seen making absurd comments in his meetings like how Himanta Biswa Sarma has lost his mind etc. His infamous use of blessed water or ‘jhora phuka’ has not ended. There is a tendency to also polarise voters on communal lines.

Political campaigns are bound to indulge in rhetoric but mere rhetoric cannot take the centrestage. There is an absence of serious engagement on issues. While BJP reiterates that it will bring Citizenship Amendment Bill if voted to power, AGP is keeping mum on the issue. How can an alliance happen when the two partners are completely opposed to each other on such a crucial issue? And this issue which will have far reaching impact on the region and its people is missing in electoral campaigns.

Along with this, what is missing is the question of giving ST status to the six communities of Assam which has been a long standing demand. The state of Assam was stripped of special status after the BJP government came to power. There is no discussion on this issue either. So when discussion on serious issues are missing in a big way and the space is being taken up by non-issues, one is left wondering what do we as voters have to fall back upon while choosing our leaders? It is high time that people who aspire to hold political positions should act in a more responsible way, should not trivialise crucial issues.

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