Assam election results: Key factors which helped BJP uproot the 15-year-old Gogoi govt

Ending a 15-year rule in a state is no small achievement. Here are the factors which led to victory for the BJP in Assam.

Anshu Lal May 19, 2016 15:21:36 IST
Assam election results: Key factors which helped BJP uproot the 15-year-old Gogoi govt

The exit polls for Assam have been proven right and now, the BJP is comfortably on its way to end the 15-year rule of the Tarun Gogoi-led Congress government in the state.

All the TV news channels are currently showing that BJP is leading in over 80 seats in the 126-seat Assam Assembly, giving it a resounding victory and a clear mandate by the people of the state.

Ending a 15-year rule in a state is no small achievement for the party, especially when in the last elections it had won an abysmally low number of five seats.

Here are the factors which led to victory for the saffron party in Assam:

Illegal immigrants

Some would say that the issue of illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh was the most important factor which decided the result for the Assam polls.

Assam election results Key factors which helped BJP uproot the 15yearold Gogoi govt

Representational image. PTI

The politics of identity and citizenship peaked in Assam during the polls, especially with the BJP invoking the issue with a fresh promise to stop illegal infiltration from Bangladesh and take measures to detect and deport such migrants if voted to power in the State, according to this Firstpost article.

Both BJP president Amit Shah and PM Narendra Modi had promised to stop illegal immigration if the BJP came to power.

The BJP stand probably made it more popular among the Hindus of the state, for whom illegal immigration from Bangladesh was an emotive issue because they said that they have lost jobs and benefits of government welfare scheme to those who had crossed over, according to this NDTV article.

The Muslim vote

The issue of immigration also brings up the issue of the Muslim vote in Assam. The state has the second highest percentage of Muslims among all the other Indian states.

According to the 2011 Census, the Muslim population in Assam, the most populated state in northeastern India, is 34.22 percent out of a total of 31.2 million. The Muslim population in Assam rose by 3.3 percent since the last Census in 2001.

Interestingly, the population growth of Muslims in Assam is higher than in Jammu and Kashmir, where it increased by 1.3 percent between 2001 and 2011. The national average growth of Muslim population is 0.8 percent.

The NDTV report further said that an estimated ten percent of the state consists of Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh.

Some reports had said that the BJP was trying to polarise voters in Assam with its stand on illegal immigration, thus distancing itself from the Muslims. But, even on Thursday, after the trends showed BJP leading in Assam, Sarbananda Sonowal, the party's CM candidate, said that the party was not against Muslim immigrants but only against those who had migrated illegally to the state.

BJP's clarification might have helped the party secure more votes from the Muslim population in the state, making it clear to the voters that it was against illegal migrants but not Muslims while at the same recognising the role of Assamese Muslims, according to another NDTV article.

Another aspect of the Muslim vote was that it got divided between the ones who voted for the Congress and the ones who voted for the AIUDF, which brings us to the issue of alliances.

The importance of alliances

The Assam election is a perfect example of the importance of allies. Tarun Gogoi had earlier said that the "question doesn't arise of allying with the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF)".

Trends have now shown that the AIUDF got the third-largest number of seats in the elections.

On the other hand, BJP formed alliances with the Bodo Peoples Front (BPF) and Asom Gana Parishad (AGP). NDTV reported that the BJP faced pressure from both within the party and the old Sangh guard to ignore the AGP. It was also said that the AGP was being given too many seats. But the BJP nevertheless entered into an alliance with the AGP and BPF, which "gave it the leadership of a broad-based social alliance".

And in the end, it worked out well for the BJP. According to Business Standard, until 11 am, BPF was leading in 11 out of 12 seats it had contested in and AGP was leading in 15 out of 24 seats. The BJP on its own was leading in 50 seats back then, way behind the majority mark of 63.

Focus on local leadership rather than the Modi card

One of the biggest factors which had worked against the BJP during the Bihar polls in 2015 was the 'Bihari vs Bahaari' issue. PM Modi's extensive campaigning in Bihar worked against the party and Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad used the issue of the step-motherly treatment of the 'outsider' to their advantage.

BJP has clearly taken note of this fact because during the Assam polls, Modi addressed only eight rallies.

As noted in this India Today article, the campaign was not micro-managed by the central leadership.

Instead, BJP focused on the local leadership. Sarbananda Sonowal, the 53-year-old former president of influential All-Assam Students Union, who hails from the Kachari tribe, brings in a unique synthesis of tribal leadership and Hindutva politics in governance-starved Assam.

That Sonowal has a connect with the Sonowal Kachari tribe of Assam suited both the BJP and the RSS for gaining power beyond river Brahmaputra in the northeast. Trends available so far suggest that Sonowal's presence actually helped BJP which portrayed itself as a pro-tribal outfit for the first time.

Weak Congress leadership

It is high time that the Congress realises that the reason it is continuously losing elections is its weak leadership. After the exit polls had predicted disaster for the Congress, Sandipan Sharma had written, "Somebody should ask Sonia a basic question: What exactly does Rahul bring to the Congress? Experience? No. Charisma? No. Political wisdom? No. Ability to win elections? No. Is he, like Indira Gandhi feared and respected by party cadres? Or, is he, like Jawaharlal Nehru, admired for his vision and erudition? In the hierarchy of the dynasty, Rahul doesn't even compare with his father, not on any imaginable parameter."

The Business Standard article also talked about the poor man management skills of Rahul Gandhi. The article said that it was displayed by the fact that even though the vote share of the Congress had not shrinked, it had lost over 40 seats.

Rahul also could not realise the value of Himanta Biswa Sarma, who had been complaining that "Rahul Gandhi would show more interest in playing with his dog than focus on the discussion at hand when Sarma met him over several meetings in 2015."

Sarma joining the BJP cost the Congress a lot of votes as he won in Assam polls by a margin of over 90,000 votes.

Apart from the poor decisions taken by the top Congress leadership, the local party leadership was also weak. According to DNA, the people of Assam were not happy with the implementation of government schemes by the Tarun Gogoi government. "It is well known that large-scale loot of public money by a section of people in power and officials is the main reason behind lack of development in the state, which contributed to the defeat of the Congress," said the DNA article.

With inputs from agencies

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