Now that the BJP has captured power in Assam and credit is being given to meticulous campaigning and projection of the new leadership of Sarbananda Sonowal and Himanta Biswa Sarma, old-timers say the ground work had started almost a generation back.
“It was the likes of late Kushabhau Thakre and late Bansilal Soni who laid the foundation of making forays into Assam. Even thinking about BJP was discouraged in Assam in those days,” said Angad Singh, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader in Karbi Anglong region of Assam.
“I still remember meeting Thakre at a circuit house in Diphu in 1993. I told him BJP has no future because Assam power politics will be always divided between Congress and Asom Gana Parishad,” he says.
“But Thakreji said in every disgruntled Congress supporter and leader we have a potential BJP worker. His words have turned prophetic.”
Agree other BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leaders in the state. Some of them point out that even the likes of Vishwa Hindu Parishand (VHP) leader Pravin Togadia had visited rural Assam half a dozen times in the last two years.
Dipankar Dowarah, a local BJP leader in Guwahati, told IANS: “Both Thakreji and Soniji traveled across Assam, including rural areas like Naharkatia, Sorupathar, Borpathar, Hojai and Mariani.”
Senior state BJP leaders Rajen Gohain and Ramen Deka, both members of the Lok Sabha, say it was once deemed wishful a thinking that the party would have an electoral base in Assam.
“When we spoke about forming government in Assam, even in the Central Hall of parliament, Congress and other leaders would say it is a case of building up a saffron castle in Assam sky. Today, we have proved them wrong,” says Gohain, who represents Nagaon Lok Sabha constituency in the state.
Deka, who represents Mangoldoi, says: “But we had hopes. People were sincerely for BJP ideology and for a clean administration. Years of non-performance under successive Congress and AGP regimes left a space that our party could fit into well.”
Agreeing with him, Prafulla Ketkar, editor of the RSS-run newspaper The Organiser says, “Assam has been longing for a strong and ideologically sound opposition party. After the students-turned-netas’ outfit AGP failed the people and the Congress in last 15 years did not deliver much, the BJP had a chance.”
But a winning team of party cadres and booth level management could not have been gathered in a few months’ time, Ketkar said.
“It is a long process and besides former stalwarts like Soniji and Thakreji, the VHP and RSS also worked overtime.”
D. Tirthankar, a medico in Guwahati who had joined the RSS in 2000, bears out Ketkar.
“It was a solemn pledge by many of us from professional streams — doctors, educationists and engineers — who joined RSS to help BJP grow. The contribution of Sangh outfits in this record-breaking victory in Assam cannot be ignored,” says Tirthankar.
About 25,000 RSS and VHP workers played their part rather actively in these elections, say sources in BJP’s Assam unit.
“RSS created four zones internally and deputed their men in Barak Valley, upper Assam, few tribal pockets, and central Assam to help BJP cover ethnically distinct regions,” says local leader Dowarah.
“Ultimately the result was rewarding.”
Former RSS leader Ram Madhav, who joined the BJP only in June 2014, and the likes of Nitin Gadkari, another RSS favourite, have in last two years held number of meetings with BJP MPs, state unit leaders and RSS shakha-pramukhs in the northeast.
Specific working formulae were arrived at for smooth coordination and all disgruntled elements were cautioned against attempting any kind of sabotage.
“The defeat of party veteran Kabindra Purkayastha in the Lok Sabha polls of 2014 did not go down well with the RSS and BJP leadership,” a party leader had told Assam leaders while warning against sabotage attempts.
“The BJP had already established a toehold in Assam in the 1970s though Bengali-dominated Barak Valley. Despite that neither of the Barak Valley parliamentary seats, Karimganj and Silchar, came to BJP in 2014.”
Something did change since 2014.
A good team work, in the ultimate analysis, on a good foundation laid two decades ago helped the saffron party steal the show in 2016.