Expectedly, the BJP has delivered a knock-out punch to the Congress in Assam with 80 plus seats going to the alliance it led. By forming a government for the first time since Independence in Assam, the BJP has expanded its presence to an area which till about 10 years back hardly had much impact on state politics. This massive win in the most commercial capital of the North East will help to expand the BJP's footprint in the remote north eastern region of the country. The BJP government in Arunachal Pradesh is through defection and not really an electoral victory.
What the BJP did right
By firming up an alliance with regional parties like the Asom Gana Parishad, and the Bodoland People's Front, and projecting Sarbananda Sonowal as their chief ministerial candidate, the party learnt the lessons from their defeat in Bihar. Unlike in Bihar, people knew who the chief minister would be. The elections were not fought on the Narendra Modi ticket though he loomed very much in the background and campaigned extensively in the state.
Tarun Gogoi's mistakes
Three-term chief minister Tarun Gogoi pushed all the wrong buttons. For one, he helped to divide the Muslim vote by rejecting an alliance with the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) of perfume baron Badruddin Ajmal. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had tried to get an understanding between Ajmal and the Congress but failed. The AIUDF had been earlier taking away Muslim votes from the Congress. This time around, realising that a split in the vote will help the alliance, Badruddin Ajmal had reached out to the Congress. Tarun Gogoi, aware that the Congress was seen in Assam as a party appeasing the minorities, did not want to have any truck with Ajmal's AIUDF. This led to the split in the sizeable 34 percent Muslim vote, while the Hindu votes consolidated behind the BJP alliance. In the previous elections, Gogoi did not have to bother about the AIUDF, but this time it was different as the BJP had already lined up an alliance.
Himanta Biswa Sarma
Perhaps more important, was the fact that Gogoi's former blue-eyed boy, Himanta Biswa Sarma crossed over to the BJP. Sarma, a great organiser and had been the main strategist for Gogoi in his earlier elections. Though there are major allegations of corruption against him, the fact that he was a good minister who delivered on his promises made him one of the most popular ministers in Gogoi's cabinet. Though he was a Gogoi loyalist, he had been inducted into the Congress by former chief minister Hiteshwar Saikia, and trained under him. Saikia was a master strategist and good administrator, and passed on many of these qualities to his protégé.
Sarma, an ambitious man, was dismayed when he found his godfather, recall son Gaurav Gogoi from the US and get him into politics. Since then Tarun Gogoi and Sarma had fallen out. Sarma tried hard to get the Congress high command, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi to back him but got no traction from them. Sarma was bitter at Rahul Gandhi not giving any heed to his advice. Towards the end, Rahul Gandhi refused to meet him.
So the die was already cast and it was a matter of time before Sarma switched sides. At an interview to a television channel on Friday that bitterness was evident when Sarma spoke about Rahul. He said dynastic politics was all right for Rahul, who is there because of the family, but questioned whether dynasty should be encouraged right up to the state and panchayat levels. He was obviously hinting at the projection of Gogoi's son as a future leader of the state. He also said that Rahul Gandhi was surrounded by a coterie of "blue blood."
Since the late 1970s, xenophobia about being reduced to a minority in their own state by the influx of illegal Bengali-speaking immigrants from Bangladesh has been a major concern of the Assamese. An anti-foreigners movement, aimed at Bangladeshi immigrants was spearheaded by the All Assam Students Movement (AASU) in the 1980s.
BJP's chief ministerial candidate Sarbananda Sonowal, Biswa Sarma and AGP leader Prafulla Mahanta, were all part of the student movement, which has an anti-Bangladeshi agenda. Now that all three are in the ruling party together, the issue of influx will be on top of the agenda. Sarma already said that all those who entered Assam after 1971, must be deported.
The question is who will identify them after so many years? The BJP's Assam Vision Document 2016-2025 promises to protect the identity of the Assamese. A new law aimed at stopping Bangladeshi infiltrators from getting employment in the state whether in industry, business or any other agency employing illegal immigrants has the potential to snowball into a major issue. This could lead to a witch hunt and Muslims become the natural target.
Now that the elections are done and dusted, the foreigners issue may not be taken up in a big way by the BJP. The border fencing will be strengthened no doubt, but sending people back to Bangladesh would be a major problem. Considering that relations with Bangladesh is at an all-time high, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is unlikely to let domestic considerations hamper ties. The land border agreement with Bangladesh is being implemented without problems. There are many projects on the anvil between India and Bangladesh, and with Modi keen on seamless trade with the neighbours, it is unlikely that things will go out of hand in Assam. That is till another election has to be fought.
Updated Date: May 20, 2016 08:16 AM