By Sagarneel Sinha
Assam, being the largest of all the northeastern states in terms of population, has often been considered as the key to consolidation in the region. The political activities are almost in the final stage — as the elections in the state are only three months away.
Presently, the ruling BJP, which is looking to return to power, is ahead in poll preparation than the opposition parties. The saffron party has already confirmed its allies — Assam Gana Parishad (AGP) and United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL). Only the seat-sharing is yet to be officially confirmed among the NDA partners. Notably, state BJP president Ranjit Das has stated that there would be no continuation of alliance with Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) — which presently has three ministers in the Sarbananda Sonowal led BJP government.
The agenda of the saffron party for the elections is also finalized. The party will focus on peace, development, welfare, and of course, its own style of localism — as the state has its own influential history of regionalism in electoral politics. Also, the formation of new regional parties — Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) and Raijor Dal — by influential state organizations like All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) banking on the anti-CAA sentiments has made it necessary for the BJP to adopt its own style of localism to counter the regional politics of the new opposition parties.
To be fair, BJP’s agenda has been to practice localism suitable to Assamese and indigenous sentiments along with its usual brand of nationalism and Hindutva style politics — and it is based on this agenda that the saffron party surprised everyone by ascending to power for the first time in the state, then known nationally as a Congress stronghold.
Not only this, this style of BJP’s politics has been helping the party to penetrate different corners of the state. This is seen from the recent saffron party’s impressive gains in the Bodoland Territorial Council polls and its spectacular maiden victory in the Tiwa Autonomous Council polls. Even the Congress party, despite Assam being once a bastion for the grand old party, never has been able to gain a foothold in the BTC region, accounting for 12 assembly seats, since its first election in 2005. This shows BJP’s hard efforts to reach out politically and administratively through development, peace, and welfare to every corner of the state — and this has paid rich dividends for the party. The saffron party is expecting that these efforts would also pay off in the upcoming elections to return to power.
On the other hand, the main opposition party Congress hasn’t been able to finalize its election strategy. The party last year declared that it would ally with its arch-rival Badruddin Ajmal led All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), considered as a party by Assamese to ensure the rights of illegal immigrants. Notably, even Congress used to once call Ajmal’s party a communal one. With Congress’s decision to ally with AIUDF now to consolidate the 34% Muslim votes, there have been voices within the party against this move. These party leaders argue that any alliance with AIUDF would only harm the party, particularly in Assamese dominated Upper Assam. This internal dissent has forced the party to look into every pros and cons before finally allying with AIUDF.
Amid the weakening of the Congress, the new regional players like AJP and Raijor Dal are aiming to fill the gap through their brand of regionalism. Although there have been indications from both sides that both parties will fight the polls together, as of now, the election strategy hasn’t been finalized yet. AJP and Raijor Dal are unwilling to contest with Congress and AIUDF. However, it is not yet clear whether the two regional parties will enter into any political pact with the grand old party if it cancels its proposed alliance with AIUDF. Though the general view is that both AJP and Raijor Dal, if they don’t ally with Congress, would cut into anti-BJP votes, BJP is in no mood to take any risk. That’s the reason, apart from spreading its own style of regionalism, the BJP has also agreed to continue its alliance with AGP, a not so happy ally.
The other side of the story is that the struggling AGP itself needs the help of BJP more than the latter needs the former. The regional party, which itself born out of the Assam movement against illegal migrations, has now become a pale shadow of its own past. However, in the present scenario, riding on the back of BJP, the Atul Bora led party has been trying to get back its lost ground by particularly focussing on the Congress’s proposed alliance with the AIUDF.
Amid all of these, there are the Left parties that are eager to join the Congress-led grand alliance. To be fair, the Left parties generally have lost their earlier traditional base and their influence is particularly limited to 6-7 seats. To win even a single seat, actually, the Left parties are more in need of such an alliance.
A grand alliance comprising Congress, AIUDF, AJP, Raijor Dal, and also the Left parties has the power to give a tough fight to juggernaut BJP in Assam. But there are lot of factors impeding such anti-BJP alliance and that is the advantage for the saffrons at the moment. The Congress and AIUDF have to work really hard in the coming few weeks if they are determined to keep BJP from power after the assembly elections. (IP