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alaka desai sarma

n a l b a r i - m l a : a l a k a

||| politics & assam |||


For Alaka Sarma, originally Alaka Desai, a Mumbai-born Gujarati, it has been a long way from India’s financial capital to this backward Nalbari district in lower Assam which, till a few years ago, was a bastion of ULFA militants.

As Assam heads for the second and final phase of Assembly elections on Monday, Sarma is seeking re-election from here on an AGP ticket.

“Don’t call me a Mumbai-born Gujarati. I had become a bowari (daughter-in-law) of Nalbari by marriage. And today, after my husband’s assassination, the people of Nalbari have made me their jiyori or daughter,” says the 55-year old Sarma, who had won the Nalbari seat twice.

While her husband Nagen Sarma, then PWD minister in the AGP government headed by Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, was killed in an ULFA attack in February 2000, the regional party had asked her to fill in the void. She won the by-election four months later, but lost in 2001 to the Congress. In 2006, she bounced back, winning by a margin of over 15,000 votes in an eight-cornered contest.

“I am confident of winning again,” says Sarma, an MA and PhD in economics, who had married Nagen Sarma, once a fire-brand leader of the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) when she frequented Assam while working on her PhD on changes in tribal economy in Nagaland. She had also written a number of articles in national newspapers and magazines on Bangladeshi infiltration during the Assam agitation from 1979 to 1985.

And, unlike most of her opponents in the nine-cornered contest this time, Alaka Sarma is not only adhering to the EC guidelines on expenditure, but has also gone on padayatras as part of her campaign.

“This way I am meeting more people and they are also walking with me from one village to another,” said Sarma, who during her college days was an active member of Jayaprakash Narayan’s Chattra-Yuva Sangharsh Vahini.

Draped in a typical two-piece Assamese mekhela-chadar, Alaka Sarma also visits every naam-ghar — the traditional community prayer hall in every village — and seeks blessings of the people, especially women. “I have a group of women self-help group in every village in my constituency, which together must have empowered over 15,000 women,” she claimed.

As she walks from village to village and interacts with women, she talks about price rise and corruption, two issues which the AGP and all other opposition parties are using to attack the Congress. “Just recall. What was the price of dal when the AGP was in power? Yes, the cost of dal has gone up four times in 10 years of Congress rule. If you bought one kg of dal in 2000 for Rs 30, today you get only 250 grams with that amount,” says Alaka.

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