Unless there is a miracle, the Congress will lose what the BJP called the 'Last Battle of Saraighat' in Assam. And the political implications of the loss in Assam could be identical to the events that followed the historical war fought on the banks of the Brahmaputra nearly 450 years ago.
All the exit polls indicate that the BJP will either be the single-largest party or sweep the election in Assam. Either way, it will get the first shot at forming the government in the state.
The BJP had compared the Assam polls with a historical battle between the invading armies of Mughals against local Ahom rulers. In that battle Ahoms led by general Lachit Borphukan had repulsed the Mughals and ended their dream of expanding beyond Bengal.
Midway through the poll campaign in Assam, BJP's poll strategist Himanta Biswa Sarma, a Congress renegade, realised that the most effective way to win the election was to raise the issue of the threat to Assam's demography from illegal immigrants. Through a sustained campaign, he managed to create the impression that an invasion of Assam by Bangladeshi immigrants would become a fait accompli if the Congress and Badruddin Ajmal's parties are allowed to form the government. And that the original tribes of Assam will turn into a religious minority.
There are around 35 percent Muslim voters in Assam, most of them immigrants from erstwhile East Bengal (later Bangladesh). Their numbers have gone up steadily over the past few decades. If the exit polls are an indication, fears of Assam becoming a Muslim-majority state seem to have swung the election in the BJP's favour.
The BJP appears to have raced past the Congress also because of its alliance with Asom Gana Parishad and Bodo People's Front. On the ground the alliance seemed to be working by transferring their votes to each other. Exit poll results also indicate that the Bihar-like Mahagathbandhan in Assam has helped the BJP demolish the Congress.
The Congress would be ruing its decision to let Sarma walk out of the party and he became the BJP's strategist. Such is Sarma's clout in the state that it is widely believed that he single-handedly stitched an invincible alliance and turned illegal immigration into the most important issue in the election.
A few months before walking out of the Congress, Sarma had staked claim to the CM's job during a meeting with Rahul Gandhi. He had argued that the party had won the 2011 Assembly polls only because of his strategy and personal influence. To this Rahul had reportedly retorted with a ''so what?" The Congress VP may get the answer on 19 May.
The predicted loss in Assam suggests that nothing is working for the Congress. It is being routed in states where it has a government — Assam and Kerala; it is finding it difficult to return in states where it is the opposition. Incumbency, anti-incumbency, alliances...whatever the Congress is trying is not working.
With the predicted loss of Assam and Kerala, the Congress would be wiped out of every major Indian state except Karnataka. Since May 2013, when it won Karnataka, primarily because of BJP's mistakes and Siddaramaih's influence, the Congress has not won a single election. Though it rode to power on the coattails of Nitish Kumar-Lalu Yadav alliance, in every other election it has been routed.
Assam was the Congress' only hope in this round of polling. Since it had won three consecutive elections in the state, was led by a strong regional leader in Tarun Gogoi and the BJP just had a token presence till a few years ago, the state appeared to be a safe bet for the party.
After the Mughals lost the battle of Saraighat, they went into terminal decline. Within a few decades the Mughal empire crumbled and the dynasty became irrelevant.
History may be on the verge of repeating itself. And the Last Battle of Saraighat may turn out to be last nail in the Congress coffin.
Published Date: May 16, 2016 08:18 pm | Updated Date: May 18, 2016 07:38 pm