Exit polls predict growing support for BJP in North East; social engineering, initiation of Naga peace talks may have helped saffron party

Most exit polls announced on Sunday predict gains for the BJP in the North East, which has a total of 25 Lok Sabha seats. The exit poll predictions have surprised many, because the region saw massive protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill introduced by the Centre just a couple of months before the Lok Sabha polls. The protest was so fierce that Union home minister Rajnath Singh was compelled to issue a statement in Parliament to pacify the region during the last Winter Session.

Though the Bill was not introduced in the Rajya Sabha and hence, did not become a law, it was widely believed that some public anger would remain and make its presence felt in the voting patterns. It was also expected that the Congress would gain due to due its opposition to the Bill.

The CNN News 18-IPSOS exit poll predicted that the BJP and its allies would win 8-10 seats, the Congress 2-4 seats, and the AIUDF 2 seats in Assam. According to the India Today-Axis exit polls, the BJP is set to win 18 seats out of 25 in the North East.

 Exit polls predict growing support for BJP in North East; social engineering, initiation of Naga peace talks may have helped saffron party

Representational image. Reuters

Polarised election

One political development that may have damaged the Congress' prospects was its perceived tacit alliance with the All India United Democratic Front, led by Maulana Badruddin Ajmal. On 25 March, the AIUDF announced that it would field candidates only in three of the 14 Lok Sabha constituencies in Assam in an effort to prevent the BJP from returning to power.

Although the Congress repeatedly denied any alliance with the AIUDF, the BJP portrayed the latter’s decision not to field any candidate in 11 out of 14 constituencies in Assam as being part of a secret understanding between the two. Due to this, the Congress may have failed to capitalise on the people’s grievances over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.

Another significant political development in Assam that may affect the electoral outcome was the reunion of the Asom Gana Parishad with the BJP just before the polls. Earlier, the AGP had announced that it had snapped the alliance with the saffron party due to its opposition to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, sending shockwaves across the region. After the two parties reunited, they also agreed to rework the Bill to ensure that it does not impact the region’s interests. This might have helped the BJP in mending some of the damage.

Social engineering

In the past three years, after the BJP formed its first government in Assam, the saffron party attempted to woo the traditional Congress voter bases in the state. The exit polls suggest that the party may have had some success in doing so.

The Congress had a powerful presence among the Bengali-speaking population, which form 29 percent of the state’s total population; the tea tribes, who have a population of about 70 lakh, and Muslims, who constitute over one-third of the state's population.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill had provided for giving citizenship status to Bengali Hindus who had illegally migrated from Bangladesh and were facing religious persecution. Though the Bill was opposed by ethnic groups and tribes, it was welcomed by Bengali Hindus living in Assam and other parts of the North East.

There is a possibility that Bengali-speaking Hindus who were traditionally Congress voters may have shifted allegiance to the BJP.

In the last three years, the BJP had lured the tea tribes with cash schemes. In February, the Assam government announced that rice would be be given free of cost to four lakh families living in the tea garden areas, while two kilograms of sugar per month would be given to families of tea garden workers.

Further, schemes for maternity wage compensation for female tea garden labourers, and scholarships for children of tea garden labourers were also floated by the present dispensation. The state government sought to reach out to Assamese Muslims by constituting separate boards for their development and allocating Rs 100 crore for this purpose. In the 2016 Assembly elections, 17 percent of the Assamese Muslim voters are estimated to have shifted to BJP from the Congress. This figure may have increased after this scheme was launched.

What also may impact the result of the election is the ongoing peace talks process with the Naga insurgent groups. The Naga insurgency affects four states, namely Nagaland, Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. These talks have been a major thrust of the BJP’s election campaign. The party has sought to persuade people that the talks are going in the right direction and might not be successful if Modi does not return to power.

The talks with the Naga insurgent groups, which is the oldest armed struggle in India, began under the present regime in 2015.

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Updated Date: May 20, 2019 23:26:29 IST