With the first phase of elections in Assam slated for 4 April, the two major parties are busy with frantic campaigning. The BJP has fielded all their big guns. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already done his bit of campaigning and collected huge crowds. BJP president Amit Shah too was in Assam, so is star campaigner Smirti Irani. AICC General Secretary Rahul Gandhi is campaigning both in the Bengali speaking Barak valley as well as in Assam constituencies that go to the polls in the first phase. Congress president Sonia Gandhi has addressed several meetings. The Congress campaign is low-key compared to the high octane BJP bid with leaders flying in from across the country to do their bit.
Assam has never seen an election like this before. Though everyone admits that, for the first time, the BJP and its allies the Asom Gana Parishad and the Bodoland People’s Front has an edge in the state assembly elections, the Congress is also posing a tough fight mainly in rural Assam. Incumbency is a major factor for Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi.
The Assamese middle class, as well the prosperous Marwari traders and the Bengali Hindus in the Brahmaputra valley, are solidly behind the BJP. The Bengali speakers of the Barak valley are also with the BJP. But the factional fight within the Congress in the Barak region, which has been the bane of the party, has for now closed ranks as it fights for survival.
Strategic voting and last minute swing
In the last couple of years the Muslim vote bank of the Congress was hijacked by Badruddin Ajmal, a top notch businessmen dealing with attar, and his All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF). He is the president of the state Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind. His AIUDF was the largest opposition in the last state legislature with 18 seats. But the report from the ground is that with the polarisation that is taking place in Assam, Muslim minorities and the immigrant community are having second thoughts about the AIUDF.
The minorities want to scupper the BJP’s chances of forming the next government in the state. They believe that switching allegiance from Ajmal to the Congress would be a more effective way to stop the BJP juggernaut. Ajmal so far has never been in a position to form a government. They also believe that Ajmal with his business interests in Assam, Mumbai and in the Gulf will have to play ball with the BJP government in New Delhi. So despite his rhetoric, Ajmal will not stand up for them. "He has neither the vision nor the clout to help Muslims, though he does enormous charity work through his foundation. But Muslim minorities worried about the BJP are thinking of shifting alliance to a national party like the Congress,’’ said political observer Haider Hussain. But the decision will be taken just a day or two before polling . That is the way it operates in Assam, Hussain explained. There are around 30 assembly constituencies in the 126 member assembly, where the Muslims can make a difference. Yet it is not that all minorities will desert Ajmal. That can be fragmentation here too.
Himanta Biswa Sarma factor
The mood across the state is for change. Fifteen years of Congress rule is enough say many. The chant is for clean government and development. People are fed up with corruption. Ironically Himanta Biswa Sarma, who switched over to the BJP from the Congress, is allegedly one of the most corrupt politicians in the state. Yet now that he is with the BJP no one talks of it.
The man behind the BJP campaign and the one who is making the difference is Sarma. Despite the allegations of corruption, he was the one minister in Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s cabinet who worked tirelessly and delivered. Sarma is known to be a fantastic organiser. The Congress win in the previous elections had much to do with Sarma’s popularity among the masses and his exceptional organisational skills. "The BJP without Sarma backing them would not have won more than ten seats. He is the one who is giving a massive push to the party," said Hussain. The talk in Assam is that it is Sarma and not the chief ministerial candidate, Sabananda Sonwal, who is the face of the BJP. He is there sitting besides the Prime Minister, Amit Shah and all the big wigs who fly in from Delhi. Sonwal is a light weight in Assam politics.
The illegal immigrants issue
The emotive issue of illegal influx of immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh is no longer in the forefront. The AGP, made up of leaders of the All Assam Student Union came to power, after spearheading a popular movement against Bangladeshi immigrants. But once they assumed power, the AGP could not live up to its promise of sending the illegal entrants back. The BJP, including Prime Minister Modi had spoken of the dangers posed by Muslim migrants while campaigning for the 2014 parliamentary polls. But today, neither the AGP nor the BJP are focusing on this. Instead the agenda is development, jobs and clean government. ends.