The three-phase race for the 15th Assam legislative assembly is set to begin on March 27, with voting scheduled to wrap up on April 6. There are 13 political parties in the fray, including two coalitions led by the ruling BJP and the Congress.
The state assembly polls, which happens once every five years, has been divided into three phases this year. The election is being fought to elect 126 MLAs to its 15th legislative assembly.
Here are the key issues that can influence this year's Assam polls:
1) CAA and NRC
According 2011 census, the state's 61.47 percent of the population is Hindu while 34.22 percent is Muslim. As a result, the state’s indigenous population is extremely diverse in terms of culture, language and religion.
Assam’s voting pattern is too highly influenced by its complex history — a major factor being the continuous influx of refugees from erstwhile East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in the post-Independence period, especially after the creation of Bangladesh in 1971.
There is a strong sense of Assamese sub-nationalism in the upper Brahmaputra Valley, where the CAA became a major issue. Hence, CAA and NRC are one of the most talked about issues for this election to the point that major political parties of the poll-bound state have been divided into the two sides of pro- and anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ally Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) are in support of the CAA, which was passed in the parliament in December 2019. However, the Opposition parties, including the Congress, the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) and newly formed regional political parties like Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) and Raijor Dal, have opposed the law.
In the beginning of 2020, Assam witnessed a massive anti-CAA movement as various political parties, non-political organisations, students and activists joined hands to protest against the citizenship law. The protests turned violent with a few dying during police firing which left many others severely injured.
Senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in a rally said his party will never accept the CAA and will not allow anyone to implement it. He accused the BJP and RSS of trying to divide Assam.
In what Congress called a 12-point "chargesheet" against the BJP government, the party said the BJP government has "failed" to deliver on these 12 key issues in Assam, as the party sharpened its attack on the BJP before the assembly election to be held in three phases from March 27 to April 6.
"Before coming to power, the BJP promised to protect jati-mati-bheti (community, land and base) but instead imposed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) on the people of Assam," the Congress said in a statement.
"The BJP had promised to finish the work of updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC), started by the Congress, which would help identify foreigners. But the party has stalled the process of NRC for reasons best known to them," said the Congress, which is fighting the election in an alliance with Maulana Badruddin Ajmal's AIUDF.
While, on the other hand, Assam BJP chief Ranjeet Kumar Dass claimed that the controversial CAA is not an issue in the upcoming assembly elections in the state as people will vote logically, not emotionally. "There will be no impact (of CAA) on elections and the people of Assam have earlier shown that. When the citizenship issue was at its peak, we had participated in the panchayat polls, asking people to question us if any foreigner enters Assam. We bagged the highest number of seats in that election," he said.
Releasing the party's manifesto “Sankalpa Patra” in Guwahati, BJP national president, JP Nadda said, “We are committed to bringing a corrected NRC to secure and protect Assam… We will protect genuine Indian citizens and detect illegal infiltrators so that Assam can remain Assam’s.”
The final Assam NRC — which excluded 19 lakh people — was published on August 31, 2019.
2) Tea garden workers
Apart from CAA and NRC, the issues of tea garden workers is also another key factor that will influence this election.
In the recent Union Budget, the government announced a package of Rs 1,000 crore for tea garden workers in West Bengal and Assam. The state government has recently transferred Rs 3,000 into the accounts of over 7 lakh tea garden workers.
However, many workers' representatives have called this insufficient. They have been demanding a wage hike from the existing Rs 167 per day to Rs 351.33.
3) Assam's unemployment issue:
To tackle the increasing unemployment issue, both ruling BJP and opposition Congress have made promise to the unemployed youths of Assam to give 1 lakh government jobs within a year after formation of government in the state.
The opposition Congress has promised that once Congress comes back in power in the state, its government will give five lakh government jobs (1 lakh government jobs in each year) and 25 lakh jobs in the private sector.
To counter its promise, JP Nadda said that Assam would become the fastest job creator state in the country. The BJP has committed to provide 2 lakh jobs in the public sector, of which 1 lakh will be given by March 31, 2022, he said, adding the party would also provide 8 lakh jobs in private sector.
Apart from the aforementioned key issues on voters’ minds this season, the issue of COVID-19 and rising fuel prices could also influence the election this year.Click here for Moneycontrol’s full coverage of the 2021 Assembly elections