GUWAHATI, Oct 17 - The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill or CAB, law and order, granting Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to six communities of the State, unemployment, slowdown in economic growth, and reduction in Central funds to the panchayat and rural development sector are among the main issues being highlighted by the principal Opposition Congress party in its campaign for the bypolls to four Legislative Assembly constituencies of Assam.
Leaders of the grand old party claimed that they have received �unprecedented response� from the electorate so far and exuded confidence of emerging victorious from at least three out of the four seats going to the by-elections.
�Our campaign is on at all tiers, from the constituency down to the booth level. We are focusing more on face-to-face contact with the voters of the four constituencies and on mass meetings at the grassroots level. We are staying away from the �helicopter culture� and instead relying on personal contact with the masses. To be frank, we have received unprecedented response,� Assam Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) general secretary Apurba Bhattacharya told The Assam Tribune.
Bhattacharya, who is also the Congress party�s in-charge for the bypolls, accused the ruling BJP of resorting to �money power�.
�The BJP is a cash-rich party. They have funds and are spending a lot of money but the BJP has failed to sway the public to its side. The miserable performance of the BJP-led regimes in both Dispur and New Delhi, combined with the ruling party�s failure to fulfil the promises it made during previous elections, have led to disenchantment among the common voters.�
He added, �BJP�s game plan to divide the electorate on communal lines and its attempt to secure votes of the Hindu Bengali electorate have been exposed by a number of incidents, including the recent death of Dulal Chandra Paul (a detention camp inmate of Sonitpur). We are getting full support of the Bengali Hindu community in Ratabari and Rangapara. Similarly, we have received good support from the tea community in Ratabari, Sonari and Rangapara. The BJP used members of the tea community to secure votes but did nothing for them. People of Assam have seen the real face of the BJP. So I can safely state that the Congress party is comfortably placed at this moment.�
Bypolls will be held for the four seats of Sonari, Rangapara, Ratabari and Jania on October 21, and counting of votes will take place on October 24.
These seats fell vacant after the legislators representing them got elected to the Lok Sabha and subsequently resigned from the Assembly. Kripanath Mallah (Ratabari), Pallab Lochan Das (Rangapara) and Topon Kumar Gogoi (Sonari) � all three from the BJP � besides Abdul Khaleque of the Congress (Jania) vacated their Assembly seats after getting elected to the Lok Sabha.
�The situation has come to such a stage that Himanta Biswa Sarma has been forced to spend three days at Rangapara to campaign for the BJP. Why is the BJP using choppers for campaign in the bypolls? That has never happened earlier. It clearly shows that the ruling party is getting nervous. If one travels in Ratabari or Rangapara or Jania, he will find that there are no good roads, no healthcare facilities and rampant unemployment is a major problem. People at the grassroots are a disenchanted lot and they are looking for an alternative,� Bhattacharya said.
APCC secretary and spokesperson Rhituporna Konwar accused the BJP of violating the Model Code of Conduct and misusing the government machinery.
�Despite the Model Code of Conduct, road construction projects have been taken up at Sonari. The entire government machinery has been put into use for BJP�s electoral purpose,� he said.
Asked about the Congress� prospects, he said, �We will win a minimum of three out of the four seats going to the bypolls.�
Congress has fielded Keshab Prasad Rajak from Ratabari, Shamsul Hoque from Jania, Kartik Kurmi from Rangapara, and Sushil Suri from Sonari. Barring Hoque, the other three candidates belong to the tea community and the Congress is banking heavily on regaining the support of the community.
The tea community, which once used to be solidly behind the Congress, had in recent years shifted its allegiance to the BJP to a large extent.