By Sagarneel Sinha
Assam amounts the maximum number of Lok Sabha seats in the northeastern region. Out of the total 25 Lok Sabha seats of the north-east, Assam alone accounts for 14 seats. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, BJP won 7 seats with Congress and AIUDF winning 3 seats each. The rest one was won by an independent.
Already, Assam had voted for the two phases and the last phase of voting would be held on 23rd April. This time the ruling BJP has been trying hard to increase its seats from the state. The saffron party, which contested the last 2014 general polls alone, has this time allied with the Assam Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodoland Peoples Front (BPF). AGP is contesting in three seats — Dhubri, Kaliabor and Barpeta — and BPF is contesting in Kokrajhar. The point to be noted is out of the three seats where AGP is contesting this time, AIUDF had won Dhubri and Barpeta while Congress won its traditional seat of Kaliabor in the last election.
Since the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the 2016 state assembly elections, when BJP for the first time formed the government in the state, much water has flown through the Brahmaputra — the lifeline of Assam. The anger against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which has died on its own, will undoubtedly be a factor in this election in Assam. But how much will it affect the outcome is a big question. Although, BJP has said that it will bring back the controversial bill if it comes back to power.
One of the most important factors would be the implementation of National Registers of Citizens, apart from the Citizenship Bill. The implementation of NRC is widely accepted by the majority Assamese and the tribal communities of the state. Nevertheless, NRC implementation, which is still in process, has been due to Supreme Court’s order but politically it has the backing of the BJP — which is the ruling party both at the centre and the state. The outcome was witnessed in the last Panchayat elections held in the month of December on the backdrop of the Citizenship Bill last year where BJP was ahead of the other parties. The saffron party won 42% seats of the Gram Panchayat level, the lowest layer while it won 51% of the seats in the Zilla Parishad level, the uppermost layer. At the village levels, issues are mostly localised. But as the layers move upwards, local issues start getting blurred with state level issues. That’s why there was a difference of 9% between the lowest and the uppermost layer. It means that the support of the BJP, which contested the rural polls alone, at the wake of the Citizenship Bill hasn’t withered. Obviously, the performance of the opposition Congress was better than the party had expected.
If one would see the reasons behind the victory of BJP in the rural body polls one would find the NRC factor responsible for it. The majority Assamese community and the indigenous tribal communities voted for the party as the BJP performed well in most of the areas inhabited by them. On the other hand, BJP also got the backing of the Hindu Bengalis which many had expected that the party won’t get due to the NRC factor. But the BJP got the backing of both the majority Assamese community and the Hindu Bengalis. Congress performance came at the cost of the Muslim based AIUDF party — which indicates shifting of the Muslim votes towards the Congress. This time AIUDF is contesting only in three seats — Dhubri, Barpeta and Karimganj — which were won last time by the party. Thus preventing the split of the Muslim votes in rest of the seats.
If the last Lok Sabha elections are analysed, BJP alone is well ahead of the Congress+AIUDF in the five Lok Sabha seats — Jorhat, Dibrugarh, Tezpur, Guwahati and Lakhimpur. In the Nowgong Lok Sabha seat won by the BJP last time, Congress has the edge as there was no AIUDF candidate from this seat. Last time, the votes polled together by Congress and AIUDF was more than the BJP. In the Mangaldoi seat, votes polled by the BJP+AGP+BPF is more than the Congress+AIUDF combine.
In the Silchar Lok Sabha seat falling under the Barack valley where Congress women leader Sushmita Dev is the incumbent MP, votes polled by the Congress+AIUDF was more than the BJP+AGP combine. However, opposition to the Citizenship Bill by the Congress and AIUDF would make it difficult for the Congress where the Hindu Bengalis might have opted for the BJP — which has been rigorously batting for the citizenship of the Hindu Bengalis. The polarisation of the Hindu Bengalis was seen in the panchayat polls too. Karimganj seat which also falls in the Barack valley may also see the victory of BJP due to consolidation of the Hindu Bengalis plus the split of Muslim votes between Congress and the incumbent AIUDF.
In the Dubri seat, where the AIUDF supremo Badruddin Ajmal is contesting, the party seems to be ahead in the arithmetics. In the Barpeta Lok Sabha seat, BJP+AGP seems to be ahead in arithmetics as both AIUDF and Congress have their own candidates. However, the contest would be close because whether there would be a smooth transition of BJP voters towards the ally AGP, which is contesting in this seat, is a significant question. Kaliabor, where already voting had took place, Congress was ahead in the arithmetics. The seat has been a traditional bastion of the party where the party’s candidate was Gaurav Gogoi, son of Tarun Gogoi — former Chief Minister of the state. In the Kokrajhar seat, which was won by an independent last time, BJP’s ally BPF seems to be ahead. In the Autonomous District seat, Congress last time won by a 5% margin defeating the BJP. This time fight would be very close as BJP has been successful in getting the support of the Hindu tribal communities which was witnessed this year in the North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council elections, where the saffron party emerged victorious.
So, if the ground situation is analysed BJP seems to be ahead riding on the consolidation of a large section of the majority Assamese and the indigenous communities plus the Hindu Bengalis. However, Congress is also expected to give a good fight to the BJP riding on Muslim consolidation plus a section of Assamese community who has turned anti-BJP due to the saffron party’s support to the Citizenship Bill. (IPA Service)