//Assam polls: Migrants to play crucial role

Assam polls: Migrants to play crucial role

Kishalay Bhattacharjee  Saturday, March 25, 2006 (Nowgaon):

In the heart of Assam’s electoral politics lies the Muslim minority, which constitutes thirty per cent of the state’s population. Of that 30 per cent, 24 lakh Muslims, mostly migrants from Bangladesh, have settled in the Char areas along the Brahmaputra. For years they have been Congress loyalists but this time round the equation seems to have changed. "The wind is different. It is Samajwadi here. The Congress hasn’t really helped the Chars this time, so they may be in trouble," said Sajan Ali, a local.

Poor conditions – The Bangladeshi migrants live in poor conditions. Extremely hardworking, they have taken over virtually the entire labour force in the state.

They grow the vegetables, supply the fish, the poultry and the meat. However, the state’s breadbasket, the biggest vote bank, does not have drinking water, electricity, schools or hospitals."Everything to the cities goes from the Char. Now with elections, no one thinks we are Bangladeshis because they want votes. After the elections they will raise the issue again," said Suleman Ali, another local.

The Matabbar or head of a number of Chars, brokers between political parties deciding on who the community will vote for. But they are unhappy with the party they voted for the last time."The Congress gave a lot of things this time. But out of 100 people maybe only 20 got the benefits. I had to sell my own cow to buy a tube well," said Ali.

The Bangladeshi migrants are still looked upon as a threat to Assam’s demography. However, when its election time, they are the most sought after.