Saturday, 13 February 2016


After the rout in Delhi followed by the ignominious defeat at the hands of the Grand Alliance in Bihar, the Modi bandwagon has all but lost its steam; in fact, after a brilliant 2014, the best in the history of the saffron outfit so far, the year 2015 has been one that the BJP would like to put behind, quite literally. The political setbacks apart, the intolerance debate, the Parliamentary logjam and the inability of the Modi regime to bring in the much hyped 'Acche Din', has to a substantial extent, hit the ratings of the Prime Minister and his party. To be frank, in 2016 too, things do not seem to be particularly good for the saffronists; of the five states that are scheduled to go to the polls, the party has meagre presence in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Bengal and Pondicherry which is unlikely to yield any significant political gains. The BJP is looking for one electoral victory to break the jinx and perhaps the state that could offer them an opportunity to do so is Assam.

Can the BJP storm the Congress bastion: In the last Lok Sabha polls, the BJP won half of the 14 parliamentary seats from the state thanks to the Modi magic, its best performance in Assam so far. In February, the following year, the saffron outfit made further gains in the north eastern state as it won 38 of the 74 municipal boards and town committees, leaving the Congress with just 17. The writing on the wall is pretty clear. The saffron outfit is now, for the first time in its history, the most popular party in Assam. It is all set to win a simple majority or at least finish as the single largest party in the state albeit it shoots itself in the foot, something that the BJP is quite capable of, as seen earlier.

PM Modi at a rally in Assam in 2014
Unlike the Delhi and Bihar elections wherein the saffron outfit was challenging strong regional players, here in Assam, the odds are stacked in its favor. It is a known fact that the BJP does well whenever it is pitted against the Congress. And to make matters worse for the grand old party, it is facing a strong anti-incumbency wave having been in power for three straight terms.

However, the BJP is not taking any chances. In a bid to further boost its chances, it has roped in the BPF (Bodoland People's Front) into a pre poll alliance which has a significant vote base in 16 assembly segments that form a part of the Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD), apart from having some influence with sections of voters in another 14 seats. Talks are set to be in process even with former ally - the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP).

Most importantly, in a move that is different from the general norm in the Modi Era, the party has anointed Union Minister and MP Sarbanada Sonorwal as its Chief ministerial candidate for the Assam polls. Belonging to the electorally influential Scheduled Tribe (ST) community, he is known for his clean image. Moreover, a host of leaders, primarily from the Congress and the AGP have joined the BJP in the last few months. Amongst them is Himanta Biswa Sarma, once believed to be incumbent CM Tarun Gogoi's right hand man who has shifted base to the saffron camp after his CM ambitions were not fulfilled in the INC in spite of a long drawn revolt.

The Challenges in Store: For all those who thought that Assam would be a cake walk for the BJP, painting the north eastern state in saffron is not going to be an easy task. For once, the party is fighting history; it has never been able to form a government in Dispur in the past. Even in the last state assembly polls, it could get just five seats. With the Modi wave all but gone, it remains to be seen if the people of Assam will repose their faith in the state BJP leadership.

BJP's CM candidate Sarbanada Sonorwal
Perhaps, the biggest head ache for the party ahead of the polls is the fact that many of the promises it made during its parliamentary campaign in 2014 have remain unfulfilled. The Land Accord with Bangladesh continues to be an emotive issue and has not gone on well with some people whereas no concrete steps have been taken to deport illegal immigrants from the state. The promise of including several communities in the Scheduled Tribes category too has not yet fructified. Besides, the Congress is aggressively wooing the tea workers who are electorally influential in many areas of the state. And then, there is the fear of an alliance between the Congress and the AIUDF which could help consolidate the minority votes against the BJP. Lastly, the saffronists have to consider the aspirations of many leaders who have joined them lately while making sure that those of old timers and loyalists are not compromised; striking such a balance could be the key in wining a majority in the state and forming a stable government for a full term.

The importance of Assam for the BJP: The PM and more so, BJP President Amit Shah desperately need a political victory to break the spate of reverses in the recent past. Assam is all the more important since the party is in no position to win any of the other four states that go to the polls this year. A win here would nonetheless infuse some enthusiasm amongst the cadres, especially ahead of 2017 when the party will be battling for the all important state of Uttar Pradesh.

Himanta Biswa Sarma
Secondly, an important aspect of Modi government's foreign affairs is the 'Look East' policy. With Assam being one of the largest states in the eastern part of the country, it is essential for the BJP to be in power here to fulfill the PM's agenda. Over the last two years, ever since the BJP came to power at the Centre, the relations between Delhi and Dispur have never been cordial, with Modi and Gogoi taking regular pot shots at each other. A saffron regime in Assam will ease this and help BJP implement its 'vision' for the welfare of the state; if party sources are to be believed, this, apparently is not possible till the Congress remains in power in Dispur.

Last but not the least, for BJP President Amit Shah's dream of a 'Congress mukht' Bharat to come true, it is essential for the saffronists to make in roads into north eastern India, where it traditional has been a fringe player. For this dream to be realized, Assam holds the key considering that it borders six other states in the region. A BJP government here will help it expand across borders into Arunachal, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura. No wonder then, the BJP will come out all guns blazing in the fight for Assam.
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Saturday, 6 February 2016


Sonowal with PM Modi and Biswa
After an incredible 2014, the once 'unstoppable' Modi bandwagon was completely halted after back to back electoral defeats, first in Delhi and then in Bihar. The 'intolerance' debate, rising food prices, the logjam in the Parliament and the subsequent inability of the NDA government to initiate much awaited reforms have certainly hit the popularity of the PM and his party. Modi for sure knows that perhaps the only way to regain some of the lost pride is by registering a major political victory; out of the five states that are schedule to go for polls in 2016, the one where the saffron camp is fancying its chances is the north-eastern state of Assam, wherein the BJP won half of the fourteen parliamentary seats in the last General Polls held in 2014.

In what has become a norm within the BJP in the NaMo era, the party's campaign was kick started by the PM when he addressed a rally in Kokrajhar in western Assam in January where he urged the people to give his party a chance to form a government at Dispur. Earlier this week, he also attended a meeting of tea workers who form a substantial chunk of voters where he famously blamed the Gandhis for holding up key legislation that he claimed would help the people of the state.

Meanwhile, the BJP seems to have learnt its lessons from the debacle in Bihar and Delhi. Sarbananda Sonowal, the Union Minister for Sports and Youth Affairs representing Lakhimpur in the Lok Sabha has been anointed to lead the saffron camp for the upcoming polls. The entry of Himanta Biswa Sarma who was once considered to be close to incumbent CM Tarun Gogoi into the party fold has added to its chances of winning. With the elections expected to be a close contest, the tie up with the BPF (Bodoland People's Front) which has considerable clout in the autonomous councils in the north-eastern state is expected to bring in more acceptance to the BJP which has never ruled Assam. On top of these positives is of course the massive anti-incumbency against the ruling Congress which the BJP could easily leverage to its advantage. Unless it does something really 'stupid', the saffron camp is all set to create history by forming its first government in Dispur or at least emerge as the single largest party in the legislative assembly in case of a fractured mandate.

CM Tarun Gogoi at an election rally
On the other hand, the Congress camp is feeling 'jittery' ahead of the elections. Having been in power in the state for three consecutive terms, CM Tarun Gogoi is facing the heat even as he tries to set the stage for his son Gaurav to succeed him, upholding a long time Congress tradition. The rout in the General Elections followed by a dismal performance in the municipal polls has adversely affected cadre morale; the departure of Biswa, once considered the blue-eyed boy of Gogoi has further dented their chances. However, some believe that this could well be a blessing in disguise since it could rid the party of factionalism, credited by many to be the real reason for the mess that the grand old party finds itself in its stronghold.

However, speaking at a press conference after PM Modi's January rally, Gogoi seemed to be confident of his party winning a straight fourth term in the state. In fact, what he was suggesting is perhaps the only way for the Congress to somehow hang on to power in Assam; if the INC can manage to build a grand alliance, the way Nitish and Lalu did in Bihar, then it has a very good chance of at least keeping the BJP at bay. Even if a formal pre-poll tie up with 'like-minded' parties is not possible, a well thought out strategy to defeat the BJP could also do the trick. But then, are the AGP and the AIUDF ready to be a part of such a formation, either formally or informally is something that will be clear in the next few weeks.

Badruddin Ajmal 
The joker in the pack is the AIUDF (All India United Democratic Front) which has been constantly improving its performance in the state over the last decade. Floated by perfume baron Badruddin Ajmal, the regional outfit which has a substantial voter base in the southern parts of Assam finished as the second largest party in the last state polls with 18 seats and then ended up with a tally of three in the parliamentary elections. As of now, the party has not responded to calls to form an anti-BJP front in Assam ahead of the polls. Most observers believe that the party is keeping its options open. In case of a hung assembly, it could end up becoming the 'king maker'. With this in mind, the AIUDF is concentrating on reaching out beyond its traditional vote base comprising of minority votes so that it can maximize its results.

Once a major political player in the state, the AGP (Asom Gana Parishad) is being wooed aggressively, both by the BJP and the Congress for a pre-poll tie up. However, as of now, the party has managed to stay away from both the national parties. The upcoming elections though are a litmus test for the AGP. Though it was in power for two terms in the state in the past, its popularity continues to be at an all time low and most of its leaders and cadre have shifted base to other outfits. No wonder, the party is trying to use the polls as an opportunity to stage a major comeback and regain some of its lost glory. Will the AGP succeed in its endeavor or will it sink further into political oblivion is something that remains to be seen.

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