The sun is dazzling bright over the heads of 8,000 people who have gathered at a playground in Rupohi, a cluster of minority- dominated villages in Nagaon district of Assam. Most people here are poor farmers, for whom voting for the Congress and Gogois have become a habit.
Rupohi falls under Kaliabor constituency, represented by Dip Gogoi, the brother of Assam Chief Minister. Before returning to state politics, Tarun had represented Kaliabor thrice: in 1991, 1998 and 1999; followed by his brother twice: in 2004 and 2009.
“People voted for Tarun Gogoi and his brother Dip because they have worked for us,” says Hasanur Rahman, 43, a Congress supporter. “If anyone else from the family contests, we will vote for them as well.”
Tapping into that sentiment, the Congress has fielded Tarun’s 31-year-old son Gaurav Gogoi as the candidate from Kaliabor. Locals are excited about his rise, and are willing to wait for hours under the scorching sun to hear the young leader speak. “I like Gaurav because he is young, dynamic and full of ideas,” says Pradip Bora, 21. “He talks of organic farming and youth entrepreneurship. As a young farmer, I want him to be in Parliament.”
Assam is one of the strongest Congress bastions in the country. In the 2009 General Election, the party won seven out of 14 seats. Various opinion polls suggest that the party will buck the national Modi trend in the state.
Despite the criticism against dynasty politics, the Congress has unleashed a new generation of emerging leaders — most of them children of political bigwigs — in the state where the party has been in power since 2001. The objective seems clear: hold on to the bastion at any cost, tame the anti-incumbency factor and propagate Rahul Gandhi’s youth mantra by using fresh candidates.
An engineering graduate, Gaurav studied public administration at New York University and worked with a New Delhi-based NGO before returning to Assam in 2011. As his father became the chief minister for the third consecutive term in the same year, Gaurav set his foot in Assam politics. Many believe that this triggered dissidence in the Congress, with a section of ministers and MLAs trying their best to convince the high command for a leadership change in the state. So, Gaurav’s battle in Kaliabor is more than a prestige fight for Tarun Gogoi.
“I am against the usage of this ‘dynasty politics’ tag,” says Gaurav. “If you look at other political parties, you will find many MLAs, MPs and even ministers who are second- and third-generation members of political families. Most of them have done well. Hailing from a political family should not be a disqualification.”
Gaurav’s emergence in Assam politics has not been a sudden phenomenon; it was in fact well-choreographed. Since 2001, he has travelled extensively across Assam, mostly in rural areas where he helped build awareness among the youth to take up organic farming and entrepreneurship through his Farm 2 Food Foundation. He has also tired to boost his image as a youth icon by getting involved in sporting events and film festivals.
“Here, you don’t have many young leaders, so Gaurav has been the talk of the media ever since he emerged in the political scene,” says journalist Afrida Hussain.
“In every election, be it to the civic bodies or the Assembly, the Congress has only done better. And that cannot happen unless the government has performed well,” says Gaurav. “I am confident that the electorate will give me the chance to work for them, like they gave my father and uncle. I understand that this fight will also be crucial for my family prestige.”
Adding the glamour quotient to Gaurav’s high-voltage campaign is his wife of British-origin, Elizabeth, who charms the crowd by speaking in broken Assamese. “Ever since I knew Gaurav, he has always talked passionately about wanting to make a difference in Assam,” she says. “His decision to fight for the Lok Sabha is an extension of his desire to serve the public.”
But the ever-smiling tall lad cannot hope to win the election just be riding on his father’s image. Congress insiders have confirmed that a section of the party is working overtime to help Gaurav’s rivals, such as Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) candidate Arun Sharma.
“It is clear that Tarun Gogoi would not remain the chief minister after 2016 as he is getting old. If Gaurav loses, it will be a huge blow to the chief minister,” says a Congress leader on condition of anonymity.
In Silchar, former Union minister Santosh Mohan Dev’s daughter Sushmita will take on the BJP’s Kabindra Purkyastha. Like Gaurav, Sushmita was also educated in the West. An alumnus of Thames Valley University and King’s College London, she practiced law in New Delhi before returning home. Sushmita made her political debut in 2011 by winning the Silchar Assembly seat.
Located in the Barak Valley, Silchar is a BJP stronghold, where votes are likely to be divided on religious lines. Knowing this, the BJP is playing its Hindutva card and its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi attended a huge rally here last month, but Sushmita is unfazed.
“There are plenty of youth voters and you cannot fool all of them,” she says. “If the Northeast wants to progress, we need young people to represent the region. We need people who are educated, who know their issues in terms of foreign policy, rural development and infrastructure. That’s why I feel the people will vote for me in Silchar.”
Another seat witnessing a son rise is Guwahati, where Social Welfare Minister Akon Bora’s son Manas is in the fray. Guwahati was the only seat in the Northeast where Rahul Gandhi’s pet experiment of primaries was held, in which Manas came up trumps. A section within the party opposed his nomination as they believe it would upset the urban electorate of Guwahati, which is represented by BJP leader Bijoya Chakraborty. Senior AGP leader Birendra Prasad Biashya is also in the running.
“Hailing from a political family has definitely helped me,” says Manas. “But politics has come a long way. One generation has to pass on the baton to another.”