The winning spree of the BJP in 2014 under the promise of Ache Din was halted in 2015 with major setbacks in Delhi and Bihar ,hence Assam Assembly election of 2016 is an extremely crucial election for the BJP but the chance of winning seems very damp under the BJP’s lukewarm politics of false promises . The BJP won seven of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in Assam during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections with 36.5 per cent votes whereas Congress won only three seats despite getting 29.6 per cent votes. So its just a difference of 6 percent in vote share during the period in which Modi wave was prevailing all around the nation under the assurance of Ache Din promises.
Back in 2014, The Assam State unit of the BJP has promised to identify and expel all illegal migrants staying in Assam, but promised to protect the Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and the Scheduled Caste people from Bangladesh.The BJP manifesto for Assam, stated that the religious minorities (Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs) and the Scheduled Caste people from Bangladesh should not be treated as illegal migrants.The party promised to complete the work on updating National Register of Citizens on war-footing, finish the work on barbed wire fencing along India-Bangladesh border, and increase deployment of Border Security Force personnel to four times.The manifesto released by BJP assured measures for constitutional, economic, social, and cultural safeguards for indigenous people of the State.On the big dams under construction and proposed in Arunachal Pradesh, the party promised to arrange for political and expert-level discussions among the Centre, Arunachal Pradesh government, and Assam.It also promised to take steps for declaring Assam’s flood problem a national one.
But right after election ,there were were lot of U-Turns regarding the promises . Apart from U-turn by the BJP-led NDA government on the issue of land-swap deal with Bangladesh which the people of Assam vividly remember that before election, Narendra Modi had gone on record saying he was opposed to land transfer to Bangladesh but just within a year Modi headed to Bangaldesh for the Land swap deal. The BJP had said it would not give away even an inch of Assam’s land to Bangladesh; instead, the Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh has been implemented, with several acres of Assam land handed over.
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. The most important promise was about detecting and deporting the Bangladeshi infiltrators. In the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls, Modi had said the infiltrators would have to pack up once he assumed office, but not a single Bangladeshi has been pushed out,instead a notification issued on September 7, 2015 by the central government 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. This notification actually contradicts Modi’s promise of stopping illegal immigration and solving the issue.Regarding notification , KMSS leader Akhil Gogoi, a social activist with large number of followers alleged that RSS-BJP are trying to snatch away the political right of Indigenous voters of Assam so that BJP can impose decision regarding Big Dams Again. Also top BJP leaders like Rajnath Singh had said they stood by the people in the agitation against construction of the Lower Subansiri hydel project but work has since been resumed.
On January 19,2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced ST status to Karbis living in the plains and Bodos living in the two hill districts of Assam. The announcement was probably influenced by the assessment of the BJP’s ally Bodo People’s Front (BPF) — which has control over 12 constituencies — that the allies could also get Bodo votes, ranging from 5,000 to 30,000, in 50 other constituencies. The PM was, however, silent on the BJP’s 2014 Lok Sabha election promise of granting Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to six other communities — a long pending issue in Assam. BJP’s Victory in upper Assam Constituencies of Lakhimpur,Dibrugarh,Tezpur and Jorhat for first time was mainly due to promises of granting S.T status to six communities –Tea Tribes,Ahoms,Sootea,Motoks,Morans and Koch Rajbongshi. People of these six communities had voted overwhelmingly for the BJP in 2014 . Recently some tribal organization even burned effigies of PM Modi due his biased stand regarding the issue. 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.
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 Sarbananda Sonowal has been declared as the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate in Assam .He has set about his task by striving to consolidate the vote of Assam’s indigenous ethnic groups. Sarbananda Sonowal came to limelight as M.P of AGP party and champion of illegal Bangladeshi infiltration issues of Assam but now since his induction as minister in Modi Government,his silence on such issues are not going well with the indigenous people of Assam. Also among his challenges are answering for the promises the BJP made before the Lok Sabha polls and hasn’t fulfilled. Over these unfulfilled promises has led to the Congress mounting a massive campaign against Modi as seen in electronic media, social media and newspaper besides road shows and door to door propaganda of Modi’s U-turn . The Congress has described Modi, who will be Sonowal’s most important campaigner, as a “vendor of sour mangoes”. There is an Assamese adage that sour mangoes can be sold only once.
Beside this challenges, as state party president, Sonowal also has to settle a couple of issues within his party, there is Himanta Biswa Sarma, Gogoi’s key aide in the Congress who switched over to the BJP last year with a hope for the CM’s post as he is a known face and has a strong understanding of Assam politics. Himanta Sharma, who was one of the master strategist for the Congress’s victory in assembly elections of 2006 and 2011 , took with him not only nine more legislators, but also thousands of supporters into the BJP.Though he is a fresh entrant, the BJP has already made him convener of its state poll panel, thus giving him the No. 2 status.Now with BJP declaring Sarbananda Sonowal as CM candidate , Himanta Sharma’s ambition of becoming Assam’s CM is pretty jeopardized ,hence its doubtful how much wholeheartedly will Himanta Sharma try for BJP’s win in 2016,there is hush hush saying among insiders of Himanta group that he would rather be comfortable if BJP seats in opposition in 2016 and he can gain status of leader of opposition so that he can work out on fulfilling his dream of becoming CM in 2021 by further consolidating BJP’s position in Assam .
When asked about former Congress leader Himanta Biswa Sarma’s joining of BJP, Assam CM Tarun Gogoi said his departure had helped the Congress and brought resentment in BJP. “Himanta is an expert in dirty politics,” Tarun Gogoi recently said. “When he was a minister he kept me mesmerised in such a manner that I used to rebuke those who came to me with complaints against him. Gogoi has been distributing a letter in which Himanta had expressed his gratitude to the chief minister. He recently also said Himanta was once an “errand boy” of Prafulla Kumar Mahanta. Tackling with an over-ambitious opportunist like Himanta Sharma will be a tough task for Sonowal to his road to CM post.
Presently Assam BJP has turned into a party of imported leaders from Congress and AGP , with long term grass rootworkers disgruntling regarding the easy way of entry for such opportunist leaders like Sonowal and Himanta Sharma. BJP hasn’t been able to build on its 2014 Lok Sabha success when it won half of the 14 seats in Assam so far as clearly seen as with power it attracted all sort of opportunist . Apparently, jostling for tickets within the party is in full swing bringing with it all kinds of unsavoury elements. This in turn appears to be creating resentment among the established leaders of the local unit.
Also at local level, though BJP is trying to take credit over Barak Valley’s successful broadgauge connectivity but its known to general public that it’s a 17 year long project with 90% of work completed during the UPA Govt. Also though Modi inaugurated Assam Gas Cracker Project, the first petrochemical project in the north eastern region of the country with the view for election publicity but Assam Congress worked out overtly to promote the fact that Modi is trying to take credit of UPA initiated projects .
The ruling Congress party despite being alleged that corruption has been institutionalised, has the big credential of resuming peace in state by handling the Ulfa problem and other insurgencies in the state in last 15 years. By and large there appears to be consensus that Gogoi has done a lot to normalise the situation in most districts of Assam. The major cities of Assam is witnessing both retail and property booms with many young entrepreneurs coming up each month. And as connectivity between Assam and other Northeastern states and neighbouring countries improve , Assam’s economy is expected to receive a further boost.In conclusion, in the run up to Assam’s assembly polls there’s no denying that Congress is facing anti-incumbency but right now , there is no alternative who can face CM Tarun Gogoi’s matured and experienced skills of running a multi cultured ethnic state like Assam with a track record of normalising life and security in Assam . Corruption is an issue, but no party can escape blame for this. AIUDF is expected to do well in the polls and improve its performance in some areas Assam. AGP is losing vote share due to unsuccessful tenure of two term AGP rule in Assam resulting in dwindling of the support base in upper Assam and also some leaders of AGP have crossed over to BJP forgetting their core ideology of “Jatyabadi” party.
communities had voted overwhelmingly for the BJP in 2014.
Can the BJP, which won only 5 seats in the 2011 Assembly elections, really do it? Can BJP beat the Congress party, which has won three consecutive Assembly elections since 2001? Will their imported opportunist leaders changing ideology like clothes be able to convince the voters of Assam to vote for BJP?
The voters of Assam are crossed lipped and silently observing the dynamics of political equation which has definitely changed a lot since 2014 .Despite wanting a change but at same time being cautious of track record of BJP’s U-turn and also equally weighing the impressive era of peace under Gogoi’s rule in Assam .
By : Dr. Tina