In late January, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) campaign in Assam by addressing a rally in which he also distributed land allotment certificates to 100,000 indigenous beneficiaries.
The BJP will be heading into the upcoming elections, which is likely to take place in early summer, with the aim of defending the track record of its government in power. An ABP-C-Voter survey has predicted a BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) victory in Assam. Of the total 126 assembly seats, the NDA is expected to win 77 with a vote share of 43 percent. The Congress’ tally is projected at 40 seats (vote share 35 percent) and the Badruddin Ajmal-led All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) is expected to win in seven seats, with a vote share of 8 percent.
On January 20, a few days after the telecast of the poll, the Congress announced a ‘Mahajotbandhan’ with the AIUDF, the Left parties and the newly-formed Anchalik Gana Morcha. A simple addition of the vote share of Congress and AIUDF as per the survey shows that the NDA and Mahajotbandhan are tied with 43 percent.
In 2016, the BJP made its maiden entry in Assam by ending the 15-year-rule of the Congress led by Tarun Gogoi.
The BJP scripted a great victory in 2016 by deftly crafting alliances and breaking into the ethnic groups. The 2014 Lok Sabha performance in Assam could have prompted BJP to contest the state elections on its own. However, in 2016 the BJP roped in Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), which had its pockets of influence among the Assamese Hindus. The BJP also formed an alliance with the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), which has a presence in four districts, enjoys the support of the Bodo community and tea-garden workers.
The alliance was super successful. It prevented division of anti-incumbency votes. As a national party the BJP showed a bigger heart in accommodating allies to win against Gogoi’s Congress.
The Congress, on the other hand, was not so magnanimous or foresighted. Though it got a shocker from the AIUDF in the 2014 elections when both parties won the same number of seats, in the 2016 assembly polls, the grand old party refused to acknowledge the AIUDF’s dominance among Bengali Muslims. This led to the division of Muslim votes. As per CSDS exit polls, the Bengali Muslim vote was divided equally between the AIUDF and Congress.
An analysis of the 2016 results shows that if the AIUDF and the Congress contested together, they would have won 54 seats, and the NDA tally would have been 72, instead of 86. The Congress would have still lost, but it would have been a respectable one.
The Congress, which has been weakened by the death of its patriarch Tarun Gogoi, seems to be correcting its past mistake in aligning with the AIUDF.
There are 49 seats in the state where Muslims are in majority. The split of votes has ensured that the NDA won 22 of these seats in 2016. Of the 20 other seats where Muslims have an influence, the NDA won 17 seats.
The BJP has made it clear that its alliance with the BPF will not continue in the state polls. Instead it has roped in another regional party, the United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL) with which it recently won the Bodoland Territorial Council polls. The Congress is currently exploring ties with the BPF.
Both the AGP and the AIUDF have lost support in the last five years, but they do bring in value to their alliance partners.
The AIUDF will help the Congress consolidate Muslim votes which accounts for 35 percent of the state population. However, the AIUDF has been a votary of illegal immigrants and this entails the risk of massive counter polarisation of Assamese and Bengali Hindus. A section of the Hindu voter which has been backing the Congress may drop its support to the alliance. Moreover, differences over seat sharing between the Congress and the AIUDF seemed to have emerged.
Assam along with West Bengal have been a laboratory of the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens. Assam witnessed violent protests against the CAA and the NRC. These protests have also given rise to the Assam Jatiya Parishad and the Raijor Dal. On February 5, these two regional outfits announced that they would be fighting the polls as a third alliance, representing regional and ethnic communities.
This third front could, however, help the BJP by splitting the opposition votes.
The 2016 Assam elections was a game of alliances, and so will be 2021.