First Round of Polling in Assam: Advantage BJP
NEW DELHI: Considering the xenophobia in Assam over influx of foreign nationals from Bangladesh and constant talk of the looming demographic change which would reduce Hindus to a minority in the state, the BJP’s nationalist line is finding resonance among voters in the state.
The communal polarization in Assam will help the BJP-AGP and Bodoland People’s Party to perhaps ride to victory in the state.
The mood in the BJP camp after Monday’s polls is certainly buoyant. Congress chief minister Tarun Gogoi after 15-years of rule, is however still giving a tough fight to the BJP. At the moment however the cards seem to be stacked against Gogoi. This could well change in the second phase of polling next week.
The BJP has played on the fears of the Assamese and promised to effectively stop immigration by sealing the border. The BJP Assam Vision Document 2016-2025 promised to to bring in a new law to ensure that infiltrators do not get employment in the state whether in industry, business or any other agency employing illegal immigrants.
The question is will this lead to a witch hunt and Muslim immigrants will be targeted, even those settled before 1971. How can people prove their citizenship? All these queries will come up if the BJP and its allies come to power in the state. But for now this line is working well for the BJP-led combine.
The issue of illegal migration of Bangladeshis into Assam has long been a part of the state politics. The Congress party has always been regarded as the party which encouraged influx and used the newcomers as a vote bank.
The All Assam Student Union movement against Bangladeshi nationals rocked the state in the late 70’s and early 80’s and brought the student leaders to the forefront of Assam politics . The agitation which ended with the Assam Accord, led to the students forming a new political party with the express purpose of protecting the state from Bangladeshi immigrants. Once in power the AGP forgot about the influx and ran inefficient administrations. Much of the goodwill that the AGP had earned evaporated quickly. The AGP decided to join hands with the BJP mainly to survive. The party ran the risk of being obliterated and hopes to ride to power on the BJP’s coat tails.
The BJP and AGP are natural allies. During the student agitation, the BJP supported the movement with stalwarts like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K.Advani and Jaswant Singh making frequent trips to Assam at that time to show their support. All through the 15-years of chief minister Tarun Gogoi’s terms, the AGP has been feeding on peoples anxiety about the silent invasion of Bangladeshi Muslims into not just Assam but the entire north eastern states.
While the illegal influx is a major plank of the BJP, Assam is tired of three successive terms of the Congress government.
The chant is for change, development and jobs. The urban middle class is fed up of the Congress and its corruption and inefficiency. Yet former Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who defected to the BJP last year, is alleged to have been one of the most corrupt in the Gogoi government. But in his new avatar as the man behind the BJP campaign, the corruption allegations have not stuck.
It is also a fact, the Sarma is an efficient organizer and was a good administrator. In fact many believe that he was responsible for the Congress election wins earlier. This time around he is helping to galvanize votes for the BJP.
Assam had never seen an election like this before. For one it is completely polarized on communal lines and there was loose talk of violence ahead of the polls. And Yes, there has been a blast in the Goalpara district, near the BJP office, where two people died and several were injured.
The BJP is likely to make major advances, perhaps even form the government. The majority of the Assamese, the Bengali Hindus, the large Hindi speaking Marwari community as well as many of the Bodos and tibals are with the new alliance. The high poll turnout, nearly 78 percent, indicates that the BJP alliance is forging ahead as people have come out in large number to vote for change. The 65 seats in the first phase is spread across Upper Assam, the Bengali speaking Barak valley and the north bank of the Brahmaputra. In the 2014 elections, upper Assam voted overwhelmingly for the BJP, riding on the Modi wave. Whether this has been repeated remains to be seen.
A major loss for the Congress in Assam is the tea labour votes, which traditionally has been with the party. The RSS is making major inroads in tea garden areas. The RSS has been working in these parts for the last 15-years or so and feel that the hardwork had paid off during the national elections of 2014. Even a strong tea labour candidate like Pawan Singh Ghatowar, who was also a DONER minister lost the Dibrugarh seat .
The BJP’s fresh faces from Upper Assam tea areas, Kamakhya Prasad Tasa and Rameswar Teli played an important part in mobilizing the communities votes. The BJP won seven of the 14 Lok Sabha seats. In 2009, the BJP managed to win 4 seats. The BJP graph has been steadily rising in Assam and so far the Congress has not been able to stem the tide.
The Muslim vote bank of the Congress has also eroded with the rise of Badruddin Ajmal, a well established businessman from Hojai. Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) has in the past few years broken the Congress party’s hold on the immigrant s in Assam. His AIUDF was the largest opposition in the last state legislature with 18 seats. But the report from the ground is that with the polarization that is taking place in Assam, some of the Muslim votes make come back to the Congress.
This is because the minorities want to stop the BJP’s chances of forming the government in Dispur. Minorities are worried that Ajmal with massive business interests outside the state and in the Gulf may not want to provoke the Central government in Delhi. So the Congress as a national party could be more useful for them at the moment. Reports are that some of the AIUDF voters in lower Assam are going back to the Congress.
The strategic shift to the Congress may take place. But this will be at the last moment, just before the April 11 polls. If the Muslims decide after Friday prayers this week to vote strategically for the Congress, it could put a brake on the BJP juggernaut. There are around 30 sears in Assam’s 126 member assembly, where they Muslims can make a difference. Yet it is not that all minorities will desert Ajmal.
The Congress is not giving up without a fight. Whether he wins or loses Tarun Gogoi has given the BJP a tough fight and may yet come up with a few surprises in the second phase of polls on Monday. ends
(Seema Guha is a senior journalist from Assam.She writes extensively on politics and international affairs.)