In November last year, when pieces of the poll puzzle in Assam were scattered all over, the BJP looked the most sure-footed, with a defined target, a dynamic leadership and surging popularity.
The only hitch was Badruddin Ajmal-led AIDUF, which claims to represent the state’s minorities — not the BJP’s prime target. But during the past five months, after parties formed new alliances, Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi, the old Congress warhorse, looks to be straining at the leash.
And the BJP is perceptibly losing its sheen probably because of the on-off-on alliances with different anti-Congress and breakaway groups — such as Trinamool BJP and AGP Anchalikata Mancha — and the denial of tickets to BJP veterans in the state — especially the Hindi-speaking BJP leaders in the northeast.
BJP rebels, who are fighting a subversive battle against the party’s central leadership, however, said the state BJP had been “hijacked” by former All Assam Students Union, Sarbananda Sonowal, the current state BJP chief, and Himanta Biswa Sarma, BJP’s chief campaigner who was Gogoi’s second-in-command.
When there’s confusion all around, what makes Gogoi still tick? He is already getting high returns on his investments in culture as the BJP is painted as an aggressor from the north.
Gogoi’s most visible masterstroke, it seems, was putting up a statue of Lachit Barphukan, the Ahom general who decidedly defeated the Mughal navy in the battle of Saraighat in 1671. Gogoi wants the statue to be a symbol of Assamese pride. The target, obviously, is the raiders from the north.
“Our position was not good a few months ago, but now we are confident of forming the government again. People wanted change, but they are comparing both parties — what the BJP has done at the Centre and what the Congress has done in the state.” He is expecting 60 of the 126 seats this time.
But former BJP state chief Sidhartha Bhattacharyya said, “Somebody is investing money against the BJP in Assam through the Congress, which is the only state from where the party can generate funds. The Congress is desperate to see the BJP lose Assam to complete a hat-trick of losses after Delhi and Bihar.”
Gogoi, meanwhile, has one deft move for each of his opponents. To tame the BPF, a BJP ally perceived so far to be the only representative of the Bodos, he has tied up with the BPF’s rival, UPP, which has control over non-Bodos, who constitute 65% of Bodoland Territorial Council population. Next, for both Ajmal — now trying to broaden his base among non-Muslims in the Bengali-speaking Barak Valley — and BJP — which is betting heavily on Hindu Bengali votes — Gogoi devised another move.
He promised, “If voted to power, I will bring the Barak and Brahmaputra valleys closer. The Barak Valley will get a mini secretariat and four state directorates.”
The canny Ahom knows it’s his last bout before bowing out. “I may not live through the fourth term, but my passion keeps me going.” Now, 80-plus Gogoi is getting ready for his final Saraighat, it seems.