Assam election 2021: This present election, however, does not look like a cakewalk for the saffron party considering the Mahajuth (grand alliance) of six parties that has been stitched by the Congress to consolidate votes against the BJP.
On a visit to the poll-bound state, Rahul Gandhi recently said that he will never allow CAA in Assam.
Assam Assembly Election: Assam is heading for a bipolar contest with Congress-led UPA gaining momentum against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) just ahead of the elections beginning March 27. Just five years ago, the Congress was decimated in the state which it ruled, in the last spell, for a good 15 years before ceding ground to the BJP. Like other North-eastern states, the saffron party had no presence in the state until about three decades back. However, after 2014, the BJP, one after another, painted the region saffron. In 2016, the BJP-led NDA uprooted the Congress government headed by then chief minister Tarun Gogoi by winning 86 seats, 60 more than what it got in the previous contest. The ruling party, on the other hand, went down from 78 seats in 2011 to 26 in 2016. This present election, however, does not look like a cakewalk for the saffron party considering the Mahajuth (grand alliance) of six parties that has been stitched by the Congress to consolidate votes against the BJP.
United Muslim votes after alliance with Badruddin Ajmal
Assam has about 35 per cent Muslim votes with a sizable presence in Barpeta, Dhubri, Nagaon, Karimganj, Kaliabor and Silchar. Usually, minority votes go to the Congress but in Assam, it is divided between the grand old party and strong regional outfit AIUDF of Badruddin Ajmal. Until 2011, when the BJP was not there, this division of votes did not matter that much as Ajmal played the role of opposition. But since the saffron party has become a dominant force and occupied power, that division of votes became a headache for both the parties — Congress and AIUDF. To avoid any more division of minority votes in the state, the Congress has allied with Ajmal. Of 126 seats, the Congress is contesting on 93 while AIUDF on 14. In the last election, Ajmal’s party had won 15, five less than what it secured in 2011. So, if the Congress manages to prevent the division, which looks plausible, it can put the saffron party in serious trouble.
Opposition unity to consolidate all anti-BJP votes
Not only with Ajmal, the Congress has an alliance with six other parties — Hagrama Mohilary’s Bodoland People’s Front, Ajit Kumar Bhuyan-led Anchalik Gana Morcha, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Liberation, and Rashtriya Janata Dal. This effectively makes this election a bipolar contest with Congress-led UPA vs BJP-led NDA. In such a contest, the fight becomes close and the party can win or lose the election with a marginal vote shift to either side. By stitching an alliance of eight parties, the Congress may succeed in consolidating anti-BJP votes.
A close look at the previous election’s numbers could give a glimpse of what might unfold. In 2016, the BJP, AGP and BPF together had got nearly 42 per cent (41.9 per cent to be precise) votes while the Congress had secured 31 per cent and Ajmal 13 per cent. Combined vote share of Congress and AIUDF works out to be 44 per cent, 2 per cent higher than the NDA. And if one adds the vote share of other six parties then the number could go up somewhere 48 per cent, leaving independents.
Will anti-CAA sentiment translate into anti-BJP votes?
Four years into power, the BJP faced its toughest challenge in the form of CAA in Assam. Here, the protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act was not limited to just Muslims but also against Hindus, who were believed to have come from the neighbouring Bangladesh. The protest against the CAA was not about religion but protecting distinct culture and ethnicity that people think would be at risk — many believe it has already been disturbed — if the Centre allows more (or regularise existing) influx in whatever way. Assam descended into chaos and violence after the citizenship law was brought in by the BJP government in the Centre. The state government of the BJP too faced backlash with people turning back its top leaders like chief minister Sonowal and finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who is also considered to be the czar of Northeastern politics. The opposition against the duo was such that during a match in Guwahati, they were shown black flags and ‘Go Back’ slogans were raised against them.
However, much of this opposition changed as the Covid pandemic struck. Sarma, who was on receiving end, suddenly became a hero for his handling of the pandemic. In an interview to Deccan Herald, Sarma said that post-Covid, the impact of CAA agitation had largely minimised, and now it had become a topic of intellectual debate only. On a visit to the poll-bound state, Rahul Gandhi recently said that he will never allow CAA in Assam. The Congress has been trying to consolidate votes of anti-CAA protestors and supporting those leading the fight against the Centre. While nothing can be said on which way the anti-CAA protestors will go, the sentiment of the people (specifically) on the law is against the BJP.
The Bodoland factor
The Congress can also capitalise on anger of Bodos, who have presence in 12 assembly seats that come under the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC). In 2016, the BJP had Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) as its partner but now the latter has joined the Congress. The saffron party, on the other hand, has allied with another Bodo leader Pramod Boro, who heads the United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL). In the recent BTC election, the BPF won 17 of 37 it contested and the UPPL won 12 of 40 seats. The BJP bagged 9 but the Congress could get just 1. However, the Congress can turn the results with the induction of BPF into the grand alliance. After joining the grand alliance, BPF chief spokesperson Khampa Borgoyari said that the saffron party in the last election had won at least 28 seats because of his party. The BJP, he said, will lose 28-30 seats in this election.
In this election, the BJP has alliance with Asom Gana Parishad of Atul Bora and United People’s Party Liberal of Pramod Boro. The BJP is contesting on 92 seats while AGP on 26 and UPPL on just 8. In 2016, the AGP had contested on 24 seats and won 14. Polling will take place in three-phases from March 27 and results will be declared on May 2.