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Congress strategy backfires. BJP chuffed at Assam win

Sadiq Naqvi | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:49 IST

In Assam, the BJP's strategy has worked wonders. Creating history, the saffron party for the first time will form the government in the state. On it's own, it is slated to win more than 60 seats, just a few short of the majority. It has swept Upper Assam which went to polls in the first phase, performed well in Barak Valley, and has managed to get seats in areas of Lower Assam which has a concentration of Bengali-speaking Muslims. Congress which had 78 members in the Assembly, is just leading on just 24, at the time of filing this report.

Read- Assam Election results 2016: 5 reasons that ensured BJP's victory in the state

Rajat Sethi, the young Harvard graduate who was manning the BJP war room in Guwahati, looking at surveys, trying to find out what sort of campaign would work best, says it was the top leadership especially Ram Madhav and BJP President Amit Shah's meticulous strategy, Himanta Biswa Sarma's skills of managing an election, and Sarbananda Sonowal's face which helped the BJP.

Sethi explains how Congress' negative campaign did not go down well with the people of Assam: "We interviewed more than one lakh people and the feedback we got was that they felt that the Congress had nothing to show and that is why they were indulging in cheap attacks on the BJP leadership including that on PM Narendra Modi. They even made a cartoon of their own Chief Minister." BJP's strategy on the other hand was focussed on PM Modi's development agenda and the issue of illegal immigration.

Congress' negative campaign did not go down well with the people of Assam.

Professor Nani Gopal Mahanta, a key BJP strategist who teaches politics at the Guwahati University, says the Congress' stand on the issue of 'outsiders' or the illegal immigrants from Bangladesh did not work. "We had an ideological stand on the issue. That it concerns questions of identity and should not be looked at from a communal angle like the Congress tried portraying it," says Mahanta, while pointing out how the people of Assam are living under fear of these illegal immigrants. "For the people of Assam it is a very emotional issue," Mahanta says.

BJP leaders like Sonowal have been saying all through their campaign how their target was the alliance of the AIUDF and the Congress. "These two parties have emerged as dangerous forces, designing to destroy the identity of the people living both in the Brahmaputra and Barak valleys," Sonowal reportedly said. He had also pointed out how the BJP wanted to work for the interests of the larger Assamese society including Marwaris, Bengalis, Punjabis, Nepalese among others.

Read more: Assam election results 2016: PM Modi congratulates Sonowal; promises development in Assam

The BJP also reached out to the indigenous Muslims whose interests, they claimed, were in danger due to the influx of the Muslims from Bangladesh. "Look at places like Nagaon where a lot of indigenous Muslims have voted for the BJP. It was only because Sonowal maintained that the BJP would take everyone along," Sethi says. Even in Jalukbari, Himanta's constituency which has a population of more than 70,000 indigenous Muslims, the BJP leader won by a margin of more than 85,000 votes.

He also explained how the BJP's campaign was focussed on micro issues. Sethi pointed out how even when PM Narendra Modi would come to the State to address rallies, the focus used to be the local issues. For example in his rallies at the North Bank, the PM did not rake up the issue of Bangladeshis, rather he focussed on lack of infrastructure. "There are just two three bridges which connect that part of the state," Sethi says. Likewise in Bokaghat, the assembly constituency near Kaziranga, the PM spoke on Rhino poaching. "In that area it is a very emotional issue," Sethi pointed out.

Edited by Anna Verghese

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First published: 19 May 2016, 3:25 IST