Rooting for Selfhood

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While BJP and its alliance partners are banking on native voters, Congress-AIUDF front has set its eyes on Muslim immigrants to come to power in Assam

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Brimming with Optimism: Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal electioneering in his State
It’s clearly a polarised election this time in Assam. Ruling BJP and its allies AGP and UPPL are terming the Assembly election a fight against the aggression of migrant Muslims and their political saviours. Congress has teamed up with Badruddin Ajmal-led AIUDF and Left parties to ouster BJP from Dispur, the capital of Assam. While the BJP-led NDA is banking on indigenous Assamese and tribal voters, Congress-led grand alliance is leaving no stone unturned to lure the minority voters. The first phase of the election has covered the Assamese and plantation worker-dominated Upper and North Assam and a part of minority-dominated Middle Assam. BJP and its alliance partners had won 35 out of the 47 constituencies in the 2016 election. In the second phase,the crucial Barak Valley, parts of Middle Assam and both the hill districts had gone to the polls. North-East Development Authority convenor and chief strategist of Assam BJP Dr Himanta Biswa Sharma has claimed that the BJP would form the Government for the second time, winning a majority seats in both first and second phases. The third and last phases of the election will be held on April 6, which covers the minority-dominated lower Assam districts.
Ever increasing dominance of migrant Muslims in 12 out of 34 districts of Assam has become one of the major election issues for the Saffron party. Ever since 2014 general election, BJP and its allies continues to enjoy the support of the tea tribal community and mainland Assamse voters. Congress lost all four Lok Sabha constituencies of Upper and North Assam in 2019 general election. Hence the oldest party was forced to ally with Badruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF and banking on the support of the minority voters. Muslims constitute 34 per cent of Assam’s population. BJP’s senior leaders, including Amit Shah, have been targeting Congress-AIUDF alliance and terming it an unholy alliance. Prime Minister Narendra Modi termed Congress-led Mahajaut (Grand Alliance) the Mahajhoot (biggest lie) and said this alliance is a threat to the culture and Assamese civilization. On the other hand Congress leadership tried its best to regain the lost support of the tea tribe community. Both Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi targeted tea community during their election campaigns in upper and north Assam. Rahul Gandhi promised to increase the wages of tea labour within six hours of forming the government and even had lunch with the tea workers. While Priyanka Gandhi tried to allure the female tea workers and visited tea gardens and even plucked tea leaf with them. Even though BJP described it as photo opportunities, Congress leaders are confident of gaining back the lost support. Election observers in the State say the ruling BJP will still get the mammoth support of the tea community and mainland Assamese voters. With numbers of populist schemes and almost 94 lakh beneficiaries, BJP could even increase its tally in first phase of election. BJP’s success in creating huge numbers of direct beneficiaries might help the NDA in the first and second phases of polls. BJP in its manifesto is trying to woo the young voters by promising 2 lakh Government jobs, 4 lakh private jobs and bank loan for 10 lakh young entrepreneurs. Congress on the other hand, is bringing a five point guarantee in its manifesto which includes 5 lakh Government jobs for the youth. But unlike 2016, the election manifesto has little role to play in the election 2021. So far in the first phase of election BJP capitalised the issue of Congress AIUDF alliance in campaign, while Congress tried to make Citizenship Amendment Act as its main weapon against the Saffron party. But the two regional parties, formed in the backdrop of anti-CAA protest, Raijor Dol and Asom Jatiya Parishad, might spoil the Congress’s game. Raijor Dol led by activist Akhil Gogoi, who currently is in jail in NIA case and AJP-led by ex-AASU leader Lurin Jyoti Gogoi refused to be a part of Congress Mahajaut. Both the parties termed Badruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF a communal force and refused to join the grand alliance. Ajmal is accusing the newly formed parties of working as a secret ally of BJP and trying to divide the Muslim votes, which will immensely help the ruling party. Both Raijor Doland and AJP are attracting the anti-CAA voters which are again a colossal concern for Congress and AIUDF.
Ruling BJP is likely to get good support from plantation workers and mainland Assamese voters. The party’s confidence stems from the fact that there are about 94 lakh beneficiaries of its schemes. If BJP manages to get their votes, it can even increase its tally in first phase of election
In the meanwhile,the BJP leadership is having a laugh at its rivals’ expense. While the ruling BJP is confident about the first phase, then the second phase is crucial for the alliance partners. Performing well in the 15 seats in Barak Valley is vital. If BJP can take a lead in the 39 seats in the second phase, then the party can easily retain power for the second time. The 40 seats in the third phase will be a challenge for the ruling party. Lower Assam will go to poll in the third phase and majority of the constituencies are in minority-dominated. The Congress and AIUDF alliance will be in an advantageous position in the third phase. Of course, NDA now has a new ally in the Bodo-dominated BTR area which will also go to poll in the third phase. NDA’s new ally UPPL is currently ruling the Bodo Territorial Council, while its old partner BPF is with Congress-led grand alliance. The 12 seats of Bodo Territorial Region always play a key role in forming the Government in Assam. The magic number to form the Government is 64 in the 126-member Assembly. As two of three phases of election is over in the State, the political enthusiastsstill have to wait till May 2 to see who will have the last laugh. Whether the BJP can capture Dispur for the second time or the Congress can make a comeback to power will be a hugely discussed question for the next 30 days.
(The writer is a Guwahati-based journalist)