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Five key factors that will affect BJP in Assam polls

By Devanik Saha
January 27, 2016 14:22 IST
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Mudslinging and verbal attacks will definitely surge once the poll dates are announced, but as with any state, there are some crucial issues which will play a significant role in influencing voters in Assam too, says Devanik Saha.

With two successive defeats in Delhi and Bihar, Assam is an extremely crucial election for the Bharatiya Janata Party, as this is the only election in 2016 where it stands a good chance of winning.

Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a rally at Kokrajhar at which he attacked the Congress for not fulfilling their promises for Assam. He said, “None of the promises made to the people of Assam for 12-13 years have been fulfilled. It has become a fashion not to give account of your own work but blame others.”

Mudslinging and verbal attacks will definitely surge once the poll dates are announced, but as with any state, there are some crucial issues which will play a significant role in influencing voters in Assam too.

Here are five key factors which hold the most potential to swing the elections either way:

Scheduled Tribe status: There is a proposal by the Centre to grant ST status to six communities in Assam, which is expected to boost their support in the state. The six communities are -- Moran, Muttock, Tai Ahom, Koch Rajbongshi, Sootea and Tea tribes. Interestingly, this move is a demand which has been supported by the United Liberation Front of Assam but has been opposed by tribal bodies across the state, according to reports by local newspapers. Given the BJP’s desperation to win the elections, it is certain that it will go ahead with the proposal, but it will definitely dominate the election agenda in the coming months.

September 7 Refugees Notification: On September 7, 2015, the central government issued a notification under the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920, and Foreigners Act, 1946, which stated that all Bangladeshis and Pakistanis who entered India on or before December 31, 2014, and who do not have proper documents or expired visas, can stay in India. The notification triggered huge protests from student and ethnic Assamese groups. As one may be aware, illegal immigration is the biggest challenge Assam has faced in the past few decades, and has led to political mayhem and chaos. This notification actually contradicts Modi’s promise of stopping illegal immigration and solving the issue.

Implementation of Assam Accord: The Assam Accord, which was signed between the Rajiv Gandhi government and the All Assam Students Union post the six-year old Assam agitation in 1985, is a crucial factor. More than 30 years have passed but the accord’s clauses have not been implemented. During Modi’s recent visit to Assam, the All Assam Students Union voiced their demand for the implementation of the clauses such as an effective border mechanism, stopping infiltration of illegal immigrants, due maintenance of birth and death registers, among others.

Pre-poll alliances: Given the spectacular success of the Mahagathbandhan alliance in Bihar, every party seems to be inspired. The BJP has announced that it will fight the elections in alliance with the Bodoland People Front and Asom Gana Parishad. However, if the All India United Democratic Front, which has a significant command over the Muslim votes, more so over the years due to the increase in Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh, decides to support the Congress, the equation will be more favourable to the Congress-AIUDF coalition.

So far Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has maintained that the party will go it alone, but there is still some time left and he may well reconsider things.

BJP’s chief ministerial candidate: The Congress has announced that Tarun Gogoi will remain its CM candidate. The BJP’s strategy of over-reliance on Modi and not choosing a chief ministerial candidate backfired in the last two elections, therefore, it is expected that it will not commit the same mistake in Assam.

Currently, there are two probables: Sarbhananda Sonowal, a former AGP leader who joined the BJP in 2011 and won the 2014 Lok Sabha from Lakhimpur. Recently, he was made the Assam BJP Chief and given responsibilities to handle the campaign; then there is Himanta Biswa Sarma, Gogoi's key aide in the Congress who switched over to the BJP last year. It is definite that he will stake his claim to the CM's post as he is a known face and has a strong understanding of Assam politics.

Given the two strong contenders, choosing one over the another before the elections is bound to create dissent in the opposite camp. BJP president Amit Shah has to handle this carefully and ensure that this doesn’t lead to infighting and dissent in the state unit.

Much then depends on the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate as that will ensure whether Tarun Gogoi has a major challenge on his hands or not.

Image: BJP supporters in Assam celebrate their's party's good showing in a municipal poll. Photograph: PTI Photo.

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