Saturday, 13 February 2016

WILL THE LOTUS BLOOM IN ASSAM


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.