The forthcoming Assembly elections in Assam will be crucial for Congress as the incumbent party fights to get mandate for the fourth time but is up against a formidable alliance led by the BJP. Assam has been a Congress stronghold since independence and during elections the party has largely been in contest with the regional parties.
The elections this time will be different.
The BhartiyaJanta Party (BJP) rejuvenated with the support of Assam’s regional parties Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) has emerged as a tough contender to oust Congress from Guwahati.
Muslim dominated Assembly seats in Assam
1. Karimganj North
A decade earlier BJP was not acceptable to a large section of the Assamese electorate and it reflected in the defeat of legendary Assamese singer Dr Bhupen Hazarika in 2004 Lok Sabha polls. Dr Hazarika contested these polls as a BJP nominee. Political analysts believe that the legendary cultural stalwart could have won this same election had he fought it as an independent candidate.
But then, this was a decade ago and much water has flown through the Brahmaputra. Since then political equation across the country and in Assam has changed drastically. In the last Lok Sabha elections, concluded in 2014 the BJP riding on the Modi wave, won seven out of the fourteen Parliamentaryconstituencies in Assam. Its vote share went up to 37% in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Soon, prominent local leaders from different political parties came and joined the BJP as they felt the saffron party was truly concerned about the state and its people. The present president of BJP’s Assam unit Sarbananda Sonowal was earlier an AGP leader.
BJP that was grappling with a credible local face in Assam can now rest assured that Sarbananda Sonowal can challenge the hegemony of Congress and its CM Tarun Gogoi. In the past, Sonowal has been the president of All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) that has its roots in almost all villages of the state. AASU is one of the powerful students’ body and voters in the age group of 30 years have a special attachment with this group.
Apart from the ‘local factor’ working in his favour Sonowal gained Assam’s trust after he spearheaded the removal of controversial Illegal Migrants (determination by tribunals) Act, 1983 (IMDT) Act.
The IMDT Act was passed to set up tribunals to determine the question whether a person is or is not an illegal immigrant. This was unique to Assam and elsewhere in the country detection and detention of foreigners is done under the Foreigners Act, 1946. However, unlike the Foreigners Act, under the IMDT Act the onus of proving the nationality of a person rested on the complainant whereas under the Foreigner’s Act the onus lied on the accused. Essentially this Act was in favour of the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and was a cause of great heartburn among the indigenous Bangladeshi population.
The people of Assam now look towards BJP as a party genuinely working towards the welfare of Assamese people and not merely as a conglomeration of Brahmins and traders.
Illegal Bangladeshi immigrants
The local Assamese people believe that if illegal influx of Bangladeshi immigrants is not controlled now, then it may reduce the indigenous people as minorities in their own land.
Even sections of the Muslim community in Assam are disillusioned with these illegal immigrants due to division of resources.
illegal immigration from Bangladesh…
State’s political scene is akin to that during the 1985 assembly poll when the AGP kicked Congress from power. AGP was formed in 1985 after completion of the historic Assam movement against hundreds and thousands of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. The party had then came to power under the leadership of PK Mahanta.
The present seat share agreement among the BJP-AGP-BPF alliance means AGP will contest on 24 seats, BPF on 14 seats while the BJP will contest on 88 seats in the 126 seat assembly.
Travails of a Tea Worker
The present AGP leaders including the current president Atul Bora, former chief minister Mahanta and former minister CM Patowary are positive with the party’s alliance with BJP. AGP leaders who were not happy with the party’s alliance with BJP have left to join the Congress. So, Joynath Sarma and Durga Das Boro left
the regional forum and are now
fighting the Assembly polls as Congress nominees.
BJP’s other alliance partner is BPF in the Bodoland region. BJP will showcase its achievement of the creation of BTC (Bodoland Territorial Council) during Atal Behari Vajpayee-led government. The BTC had long been the demand of local population and it was Vajpayee who created
Congress, on the other hand, seems to have an inherent understanding with the major opposition party All-India United Democratic Front (AIUDF). Though the two parties have not forged a formal and official electoral alliance with any party, yet it will expect support from the AIUD Fin the post-poll scenario.
NDA govt fast tracks development
n Electrification of Villages under “Deen Dayal Upadhyay Gram Jyoti Yojana”
The AIUDF, led by business tycoon Badaruddin Ajmal, created its image as the saviour of Muslims (read illegal Bangladeshi migrants) in Assam and has gradually eroded the Muslim vote banks nurtured by Congress since long. As Assam has sizable Muslim population (34% of 30 million) gradually the indigenous Assamese Muslims came closer to Congress while those with a Bangladeshi origin drifted towards AIUDF. A section of progressive Muslims now vote for
Interestingly, the voters of Assam are aware that though Congress and AIUDF have not forged any pre-poll alliance yet after results are declared they will come together to stop the BJP-led coalition to form the government.So the voters will remain cautious due to such forthcomingscenario.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 19 January 2016 started the saffron party’s electoral campaign in Assam from Kokrajhar, the headquarter of Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC). In the massive rally that he addressed PM Modiemphasized on good governance and sustainable economic development across North East India.
Flanked by the Sarbananda Sonowal and other local BJP leaders thePM committed for an all-round progress of the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts in Assam and put this development agenda on
The PM assured of Scheduled Tribestatus to Karbi people living in the plainand Bodo Kachari community in hill districts of Assam. He declared that his three-point agenda for Assam is development, development and development.
“The solution to all the problems lies in the development. It is my dream to provide electricity to each family in our country by 2022 when the nation will celebrate its 75 years of Independence,” said PM Modi adding that the Kokrajhar based Central Institute of Technology would get the status of a deemed university. He also assured of developing the Rupsi airport in Dhubri and the daily Kanchenjunga express train route to be extended up to Silchar in Barak valley.
“The Centre will leave no stone unturned to fulfill aspirations of northeastern youths. My government is working for an all-round development of the region, such that not a single local skilled youth has to leave their families to seek employment outside the region,” Modi has said.
In Assam of the 102 unreserved seats 32 seats are Muslim-dominated. These seats will be the main focus area for Congress Party and the AIUDF. However, if we translate the assembly segment-wise result of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls the BJP can win 69 seats, the AIUDF 24 and Congress can bag 23 seats.
Contrary to all speculations, one could not neglect the fact that Congress veteran Gogoi has successfully completed 15 years’ rule. Ignoring the capability of Gogoi, would not be a wise exercise, even though one can presume the electoral success of BJP-AGP-BPF alliance in Assam polls.
NJ Thakuria (with inputs from Abhay Kumar)