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#ModiInAssam: 5 takeaways from Modi's visit to the state

Panini Anand | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:26 IST

Among the five states that go to the polls later this year, it is clear that the BJP's main target is Assam. This is evident by the fact that the party's star campaigner - Prime Minister Narendra Modi - chose to sound the poll bugle with rallies in Kokrajhar and Guwahati on Tuesday.

On Sunday, the BJP announced its alliance with the Bodo People's Front and the rallies were hosted jointly by both parties.

Read: Will they or won't they? Congress-AIUDF give mixed signals on alliance

Modi was his usual combative self and appeared unaffected by the drubbing that his party received in the Bihar Assembly elections.

Here are the key takeaways from Modi's rallies in Assam.

Assam is the BJP's best bet

Four other states are going to the polls at the same time as Assam: West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry.

Despite the efforts of BJP president Amit Shah, the party has not made any serious inroads in these 4 states. So the BJP's only hope of a victory is in Assam.

It isn't surprising that the BJP fancies its chances in the northeastern state, where the ruling Congress is facing an anti-incumbency of three terms. The BJP won 7 out of 14 parliamentary seats in the state and led in nearly half of the Assembly segments. It also performed well in the recent civic body elections in the state.

It has succeeded in weaning away a number of Congress leaders like Himanta Biswa Sarma.

Furthermore, it has found a useful ally in the BPF which is powerful in the Bodo-dominated areas in Assam. The BJP is also negotiating with the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP).

Why Kokrajhar?

Kokrajhar is Assam's Bodo heartland. It is the stronghold of the BPF and the BJP is weak in the area. Therefore, it was an ideal venue to establish the strength of the alliance and send the message that the BJP's influence in the state is spreading.

Kokrajhar district has also been a hotbed for communal and ethnic violence. In May 2014 Bodo militants killed 33 Bengali speaking Muslims in Kokrajhar. The gruesome incident was sparked by the killing of 4 Bodos by unidentified youth. In December, they orchestrated an even bigger massacre, killing 65 Adivasis.

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

The state has historically had underlying tensions over language, immigration of mainly Bengali speaking Muslims from Bangladesh, and contentious arguments over demographic shifts in the state.

If the election boils down to a contest between a BJP-BPF-AGP combine and a Congress-AIUDF coalition, these tensions could flare and the state may get divided on communal lines.

15 years versus 15 months

There have been many gaps between promise and delivery in Modi's performance as PM. For the first time, Modi seemed to allude to this in his speech.

"They have not done anything in 15 years and they want me to do everything in 15 months. Is this fair?" he asked, accusing the Congress of cheating the people.

Modi's campaign speeches earlier have usually centred on big promises, references to the 'Gujarat Model' and his performance there as CM, and a sense that people should vote as a sign of faith in him, even more than the BJP.

This time, however, he seemed to be telling the people of Assam to vote on the basis of the performance of the state's Congress government and not his own central government.

He actually hinted that he and his party should not be judged on the basis of the performance of his government over the last 15 months.

The PM also seems to be warier given the announcements of big packages by his government didn't cut much ice in Delhi and Bihar.

The Congress his natural punching bag

Assam is the only poll-bound state in which the BJP is in a direct fight with the Congress.

Targeting his predecessor Manmohan Singh, therefore, he said that if the Congress couldn't deliver despite having a PM from Assam, why should the people trust them?

Read more: Prashant Kishore doesn't think Gogoi should lead Cong in Assam

He also took a jibe at Assam CM Tarun Gogoi. "Just being named Tarun (young) doesn't make you Tarun," he said, referring to the 79-year-old leader.

Earlier on Tuesday, Modi was confronted by full page ads in the regional newspapers released by the Congress 'exposing the central government for not helping the state'.

He countered this by saying, "those who must be held accountable are asking the questions".

No package promises; 'Act East' not as big a focus as it could have been

Modi announced lavish packages in the run-up to the elections in Delhi and Bihar. But instead of winning votes, they ended up attracting criticism. Modi was careful not to make any such promises during his speeches in Kokrajhar and Guwahati.

Soon after he became PM, Modi had also announced an ambitious 'Act East' policy to replace the Congress' 'Look East'. This was welcome vocabulary and if there had been real follow through, 'Act East' could have been a strong calling card for Modi and the BJP in this election.

However, while Modi did mention his 'Act East' promise, he did not enlist any actions or benefits that had flowed from it.

Meanwhile, Sarbananda Sonowal, the state BJP president and the Union minister of state for sports and youth affairs is trying his best to bring other parties like AGP on board.

Sonowal, who is also heading the election management committee in the state, had a long discussion with AGP leaders on Saturday.

However, there are still difference over seat-sharing.

"We are negotiating the seats. AGP is on board now," disclosed a top leader of the BJP.

Apparently, BPF is asking for 20 seats and AGP wants to contest 25 seats. But BJP is trying to accommodate both the parties in 26 seats, keeping 100 for itself.

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First published: 20 January 2016, 9:25 IST
Panini Anand @paninianand

Senior Assistant Editor at Catch, Panini is a poet, singer, cook, painter, commentator, traveller and photographer who has worked as reporter, producer and editor for organizations including BBC, Outlook and Rajya Sabha TV. An IIMC-New Delhi alumni who comes from Rae Bareli of UP, Panini is fond of the Ghats of Varanasi, Hindustani classical music, Awadhi biryani, Bob Marley and Pink Floyd, political talks and heritage walks. He has closely observed the mainstream national political parties, the Hindi belt politics along with many mass movements and campaigns in last two decades. He has experimented with many mass mediums: theatre, street plays and slum-based tabloids, wallpapers to online, TV, radio, photography and print.