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Assam Elections 2021 | Can Barak Valley pay BJP the dividend of CAA bid?

In the last assembly polls, the BJP won eight out of the 15 assembly seats in Barak Valley. In 2019, it secured nearly 50 percent of the total votes in the region.

March 31, 2021 / 07:05 AM IST
Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and state minister Himanta Biswa Sarma (File image)

Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and state minister Himanta Biswa Sarma (File image)

In Barak Valley, where 80 percent of the population is comprised of Bengalis, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is a factor that can benefit the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), analysts say.

The region, which is geographically and demographically alienated from the Brahmaputra belt, accounts for a crucial 15 seats in the Assam legislative assembly. All of them would go to polls in the second phase of elections, scheduled on April 1 in 39 constituencies of the state.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, when the BJP manifesto promised citizenship for "persecuted minorities of neighbouring countries", the party's vote share expanded in Barak Valley.

While the BJP cumulatively secured a vote share of 34.05 percent in Assam, it received 48.7 percent of the total votes in the valley, according to the Lokniti-CSDS data. The party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won all three parliamentary seats in the region.

The higher vote share for the BJP in the Bengali-dominated valley, compared to other parts of Assam, indicated a traction for the party's citizenship poll plank.

Notably, the CAA promises to naturalise non-Muslim immigrants who fled persecution from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The law evoked a massive protest in Assam last year, as indigenous groups consider it as a violation of the 1985 Assam Accord.

Ahead of the assembly elections, the BJP maintained a tacit silence on the CAA row. In Barak Valley, however, it's strategy differed.

Rajdeep Roy, the party MP from Silchar - the parliamentary constituency in Barak Valley - has reiterated that the CAA would be implemented.

The law "cannot be nullified by a state government", he said, while reacting to the Congress' promise of not implementing the CAA if it comes to power in Assam.

Although the CAA gives the BJP an edge among the Bengali Hindu voters who form the majority in Barak Valley, the party faces a challenge to retain the support among the community.

The BJP is facing a strong anti-incumbency factor in the region, along with other parts of Assam, said Sandhya Goswami, former professor of Political Science at Gauhati University.

The BJP has not succeeded in coming up to the expectations of voters, including Bengalis, she added. However, a strong polarisation factor exists which can benefit the party in the region.

"Polarisation will take place in Barak Valley. It can help them (BJP) but the outcome is difficult to gauge due to the anti-incumbency factor," she told Moneycontrol.

In the 2016 assembly polls, the BJP had won eight assembly seats of Barak Valley that are dominated by the Hindu voters. The seven remaining seats, where Muslim Bengali voters form a significant section of the electorate, three were won by the Congress and four by the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF).

For the Congress, the results of 2016 had indicated an erosion of their base in Barak Valley - where the party had won 12 seats in 2011.

According to BJP state president Ranjit Kumar Dass, the saffron party has further consolidated its support in the valley and is likely to win 13 out of the 15 seats.

Mohammed Shaikh