Assam Elections: A Cut-Throat Battle around the cornerMarch 25, 2016
Assam has 14 MPs representing in Lok Sabha and an estimated population of more than 33 million which is demographically diverse. Assam is also going for elections in just more than a week and elections are never predictable here. Yet when I made a quick Google search, there was hardly any news. With BJP starting it’s campaign with a bang with leaders like Arun Jaitley and Amit Shah visiting, we somehow had some coverage in national media. There is hardly any opinion polls, there is hardly any election debates and there is hardly any election prediction for Assam election in national media.
We decided to do an analysis about the election scenario in Assam.
The biggest issue in Assam is the age-old issue of illegal immigration. Successive governments have promised but failed to do anything due to lack of vision. Illegal immigration have been an issue since the time of independence, however during the early 80s, when the number of voters especially the Muslim voters increased the All Assam Students Union (AASU) and All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP) demanded conducting of elections only after expelling illegal immigrants. This led to Assam Agitation. The agitation programs were largely non-violent, but the Nellie massacre was a case of extreme violence.
Earlier this year, union home minister Rajnath Singh promised to complete by the end of 2016 a barbed wire fence that is supposed to be constructed along the porous border. There is an ongoing process to identify illegal Bangladeshi immigrants with the National Register of Citizens being updated. People who have crossed the border after midnight of 24 March, 1971 will be excluded from the voter list. A generation of refugees originally from what was known as East Pakistan could possibly be deported to Bangladesh.
The political scenario right now is very pitched up with Congress which has been ruling for the last 15 years but dealing with various challenges, The Bharatiya Janata Party which has a support of local people wanting a change but lacks enough leaders. Then we have the smaller regional parties like Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) & Bodoland People’s Party (BPF) who have tied up with BJP and the All India Democratic United Front (AIUDF) led by Maulana Badruddin Ajmal which claims of “fighting against the polarising forces. All of these regional parties will try to become king makers.
No single party/alliance is confident about winning the Assam elections and the two major parties, i.e., Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party have indulged into ambush campaigning with each party showing negative points in their posters with caricatures.
Indian National Congress
The Indian National Congress has been in power in the state for the past 15 years. They won 78 seats in the last assembly elections held in 2011. Since 1952, when the first state elections were held in Assam, the Congress has managed to form the government on all occasions barring two. The current Chief Minister is Tarun Gogoi, who will finish his third term in June this year. The biggest challenge that Tarun Gogoi led Congress is facing anti-incumbency. Tarun Gogoi did pull up his socks after the massive win of BJP in Lok Sabha elections of 2014 under Modi wave. Another challenge that Congress is facing that some of his strongest MLAs under the leadership of Himanta Biswa Sarma left Congress and joined BJP after a long dissidence.
With less than two weeks to go, the Congress has released its manifesto only yesterday. BJP alleges Congress doesn’t outline policies because it indulges in vote bank politics. This year, Congress leaders have emphasized that the party has worked towards developing infrastructure in the state. It has also painted itself as the party protecting Assam’s interests in the state and accused the BJP-led government at the centre of halting schemes for Assam.
Bharatiya Janata Party
Bharatiya Janata Party has never come to power in Assam. They won only 5 seats in the 2011 assembly elections, which is less than the 10 seats they won in 2006 and 1991. Those were their best performances in the state yet. Riding on the back of the “Modi wave” in 2014, they won 7 of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in the general elections. This was their best ever performance in Assam. That impressive performance has made other local players take them seriously. BJP is trying hard to attain the 64 mark along with the alliance this time and mostly banking on the imported leaders.
Sarbananda Sonowal, the current Union Minister for Sports and Youth Affairs was named BJP’s chief ministerial candidate in January, 2016. He was earlier a strong leader from AGP before joining BJP. He won with a large majority in Lok Sabha elections.
Instead of releasing a manifesto, the BJP today morning released what it calls a “Vision Document”. They did this during the Bihar elections last year as well. It has promised a crackdown on Bangladeshi infiltration. In December, 2015 they had also launched an initiative called “Assam Nirman”. The central problem according to the “Assam Nirman” is cultural — “How can Assam preserve its culture and heritage against illegal migration?” — and taps into the local anxieties about undocumented migration.
The main election campaign literally started only today with leaders like Arun Jaitley and Amit Shah visiting Assam today and Narendra Modi having a hectic schedule for the next 3 days.
Just before the elections, Union minister for road transport, highways and shipping Nitin Gadkari laid foundation for 5 bridges across Brahmaputra to boost surface communications. The Vision Document also mentions 5 bridges over Barak river. The Chief Ministerial Candidate pointed out during a discussion with the public that all the bridges in Brahmaputra have been the result of agitation or movement. This is the first time, that the Centre has promised bridges without any demand but after identifying the problems.
Asom Gana Parishad
Asom Gana Parishad has its roots in the Assam agitation that began in 1979 and opposed the illegal infiltration of Bangladeshis into India. It is the only political party to have ever ruled the state apart from the Congress. Capitalising on the anti-Bangladeshi sentiment, AGP first came to power in 1985, lost in 1990 and returned in 1996. Since then, their presence in Assam’s legislative Assembly has been modest. In 2011, they only managed to win 10 seats in the Assembly. This year, having formed an alliance with BJP, AGP will contest in 24 of the 126 seats.
The AGP had almost lost its ground in Assam with few leaders who will win no matter which party they contest for. They were hardly visible in the last 5 years and everyone considered the party to be dead. It was only when BJP made alliance with AGP under the initiative of Sarbananda Sonowal and Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma that AGP came back to limelight. There was even some dissent among the grassroot BJP workers for the alliance, but that was handled well.
Bodoland People’s Party
The Bodoland People’s Party has its headquarters in Kokrajhar, Assam and has its influence over Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts and few nearby constituencies. Presently, it holds 12 Legislative Assembly seats in Assam. Considering its grip over the Bodo majority areas, BJP has tied up with BPF for the upcoming elections.
All India United Democratic Front
Founded and currently led by Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, All India United Democratic Front aims to safeguard the interests of the Muslim community in Assam. Ajmal is also the President of State Jamiat Ulama-e-Assam and Tanzim Madaris-e Quamia. These are non-government madrasa boards that prepare the curriculum and conduct examinations throughout Assam, for more than 400 madrasas.
In the 2006 assembly elections, AIUDF won 10 seats and they improved upon this performance in the 2011 elections, when they won 18 seats. Currently, they have most number of seats in the assembly after INC. However, their support seems to be dwindling this time. They have allied with the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Janata Dal (United). Prior to the alliance, people hardly knew that these two parties existed in Assam. AIUDF will contest in 60 out of the 126 seats in the assembly.
They have always banked on the votes of Muslim population migrated from East Pakistan and they have won their seats in the past in areas where there is huge concentration of such population. AIUDF has made a dent in Congress vote bank in the last elections. Allegations have also been made that illegal Bangladeshis have been supported by AIUDF.
According to their website, AIUDF wants to “fulfill aspiration of minorities.” The party is both anti-BJP as well as anti-Congress and as per reports, it is expected that AIUDF will create a dent in the Congress party’s Muslim vote bank.
One of the funniest things their website mentions is that their vision is “To Sabotage our millennial heritage and composite culture.”
It is expected that the Muslim votes in some constituencies will be divided this time and BJP might get benefit out of it. Observers predict that AIUDF might win around 15 seats.
Liberal Democratic Party
Liberal Democratic Party was only formed only last year. It was founded by Prodyut Bora who was the Founder Chief the e-cell of BJP.
No one knows for clear whether the party is still interested in contesting the elections.
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