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Expect Congress to bounce back in Assam as BJP, AIUDF stay confused

Rajeev Bhattacharyya | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:40 IST

Assam heads up

  • As the election draws closer, Cong improves its position
  • Opposition parties lose space fast

More in the story

  • Why can\'t BJP benefit from anti-incumbency?
  • What are the issues with AIUDF?

The ruling Congress appears to have improved its position in Assam as the countdown for the crucial Assembly polls in the state draws closer.

An anti-incumbency wave was apparent against the Congress that reflected in the results of the 2014 general elections. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made considerable gains in the state where the Congress won three consecutive elections since 2001 under the leadership of Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi.

Read- No Grand Alliance in Assam: Congress & AIUDF fail to strike a deal

However, the internal weaknesses of Congress' rivals - the BJP and the All-India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) - helped the party regain ground in lower Assam (the western part of the state) where its prospects were considered meagre.

Rudderless AIUDF

Four months ago, analysts and intelligence officials firmly believed the AIUDF would grab at least 35 of the state's 126 seats, sweeping pockets of Bangladeshi immigrants. In 2011, It won 18 and narrowly lost four. The prognosis was based on 2011 census data that revealed an abnormal growth in Muslim population in some districts.

BJP is grappling with factionalism; various blocks are putting ahead candidates for every constituency

AIUDF also received a shot in the arm when former Congress minister and Bihar governor Devananda Konwar joined the party two months ago.

However, the party failed to seize the opportunity. Many within AIUDF, in fact, are concerned with the way party chief and perfume baron Badruddin Ajmal fails to take up issues, harping instead only on religion. They even doubt whether Ajmal would ever mature as a politician.

Congress campaign

The Congress has been quick to highlight the lack of development in several constituencies that returned AIUDF candidates during the last Assembly polls. Its functionaries have vigorously explained the danger from the BJP to voters in strongholds of the AIUDF, which would fight only 60 seats this time.

Also read: What Assam can expect from Anup Chetia led peace talks

This has given the Congress a chance to retain a large chunk of its votes in minority dominated constituencies.

Immigrants, for several decades, displayed a tendency to support the party with the biggest chance to form the government. In 1996, they voted for the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), hoping the the party that talked about driving out illegal immigrants would let them live in peace.

Out-of-sight AGP

The AGP won that election, but has been on a downhill journey ever since. Now it is trying to cobble up an alliance with the BJP. But BJP functionaries protested across the state against a tie-up with the AGP.

According to them, there is no rationale in joining hands with a party that would not secure more than three-four seats. Some middle-rung leaders also underscored the disastrous results in 2001 when the two parties were in alliance: The BJP suffered a split and the Congress swept to power with an absolute majority.

Cong quick to highlight lack of development in several AIUDF constituencies

The BJP is grappling with factionalism, with various blocks putting ahead their candidates for every constituency. Those who have been with the party for decades are upset with the importance being given to leaders who crossed over recently from the AGP and the Congress. Some are also opposing the tie-up with the Bodoland People's Front (BPF).

Fumbling BJP

Until last month, the BJP was in dire need of funds. "The high command appears to be cut off from the reality in Assam," a member of Parliament said. "The situation would have completely gone in our favour had there been timely actions and declarations. The BJP would have secured an absolute majority on its own, but there is no chance now."

The MP was alluding to the grant of Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to six indigenous communities and measures to check illegal immigration that Prime Minister Narendra Modi committed to during his speech in Guwahati a month ahead of the general elections.

Read more- Secret killings in Assam: 400 people murdered. But no one killed them

On 11 February, BJP President Amit Shah reiterated at a rally in Kokrajhar that the party would put an end to infiltration from Bangladesh, but did not mention the steps that would be initiated.

The party high command is yet to make up its mind on Assam. The state leadership's proposals have often fallen on deaf ears. It is banking on polarisation of votes. But, though a divide along religious lines can't be ruled out, local issues will undoubtedly impact the results.

Edited by Joyjeet Das

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First published: 15 February 2016, 7:13 IST
Rajeev Bhattacharyya

Rajeev is a senior journalist in Guwahati and author of 'Rendezvous With Rebels: Journey to Meet India's Most Wanted Men'.