a closely contested election it is not often that both winners and the
runners-up end up celebrating the results. Curiously, that is precisely what
happened in the recently concluded Assam panchayat elections. Leaders of both
BJP and Congress had their reasons to cheer as the results were announced a few
the short term, BJP was ahead of Congress by the proverbial skin of its teeth.
The saffron party won 9,025 Gram panchayat member (GPM) seats out of a total
21,990, ahead of all others. It also won 991 Gram panchayat president (GPP)
seats and 212 Zila Parishad (ZP) seats. It became the number one party in the
2018 Assam Panchayat polls — good going indeed. Back in the 2013 panchayat
polls, the BJP had come fourth.
this was the last opportunity for most parties to test their strength in a
major election before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Assam-based analysts viewed the
panchayat polls as a ‘semi-final.’ BJP leaders naturally exuded confidence as
the stats poured in, happy that their party’s spectacularly successful
political run since 2013 had not ended. The BJP had also won the state Assembly
and Lok Sabha 2014 polls decisively between 2013 and 2018.
the poll outcome also pleased the Congress no end. It confirmed that during the
days ahead, BJP would find it increasingly hard to hold its own against a
resurgent Congress. In 2013, Congress had won nearly 80 percent of the
panchayat seats, a clear leader over other parties. But in the Assembly and Lok
Sabha polls that followed, the party received a drubbing at the hands of the
time the party won 7,239 GPM seats, 760 GPP seats and 147 ZP bodies. While BJP
was ahead on all counts, the margin of difference between the parties was not
impressive by any reckoning. ‘These figures indicate that the Congress has made
a strong comeback since its defeat in the Lok Sabha in 2014 and is fast
catching up with the BJP. At the present rate of progress, it should be able to
face the BJP”s challenge with confidence in 2019 LS polls,’ said a
media opinion was divided. Where the BJP’s performance was concerned, there was
room for satisfaction in that the party had won outright in 13 out of 33
districts decisively. Even more relevant, most of these districts are dominated
by Assamiyas as the tribal population.
could mean that the Assamiyas, who are worried about the growth of the
non-Assamiya population over the years, had responded positively to the recent
official operations carried out by authorities in implementing the National Register
of Citizens (NRC) upgrading work. The object of this exercise: detect foreign
citizens who have settled illegally in Assam, mostly from Bangladesh, the most
sensitive issue that continues to divide Assam’s population.
biggest regional party — the Asam Gana Parishad (AGP) — along with the
Muslim-dominated All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) has not done very
well in the panchayat polls. The parties won respectively 1,676 and 1,023 GPM
seats, 137 and 130 GPP seats and 19 and 26 ZPs respectively.
AGP parted company with BJP over its opposition to the Centre-sponsored
Citizenship Amendment Bill of 2016, which sought to confer citizenship to
non-Muslim migrants forced to seek shelter in India from Bangladesh, Pakistan
Afghanistan and other countries. It ended its alliance with the BJP. The
Centre’s 2016 Bill would provide total relief to the Bengali Hindus, who have
settled in Assam after having been forced to leave Bangladesh over the years.
On the other hand, the increasing number of such migrants might reduce the
space for Assamiyas.
the AGP and the AIUDF opposed the proposed legislation. But the BJP robbed them
of their support base among Assamiyas, thanks to the ongoing NRC upgrading
analyst noted that Muslim voters supporting the AIUDF earlier this time shifted
their allegiance to Congress. The reason: they could appreciate that their
earlier near-total support to the AIUDF had led to the rise of BJP in Assam. On
the other hand, the BJP also managed to retain its support among Bengali Hindus
despite the NRC exercise, as its victory in Cachar showed. They were confident
of the eventual adoption of the Citizenship Amendment Bill in Parliament.
the prospects of a coming together of the BJP and the AGP again on the cards,
the saffron party may wrest control of another 3 districts, raising its
political control over 16 districts. It would also have a sizable presence in
the remaining districts. For the Congress, forming civic boards will not be
Congress has successfully delivered its ominous warning to the BJP, making it
abundantly clear that the Modi-Shah duo will not find it easy to win as easily
as they did in 2014 either at the state or the Central level. They have to work
much harder in 2019 to win the Lok Sabha polls. (IPA Service)