Of the four states and a union territory going to polls concurrently, the BJP fancies its chances in Assam the most. But like the ruling Congress, it is wary of the mid-decade uncertainty that has forced coalition on the state since the 1990s.
A reason behind this uncertainty is a third party – All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) led by perfume baron Badruddin Ajmal – that has been on the rise since its birth in 2005. Also responsible is the dissension in each of these parties besides poor performance of their MLAs.
But the mid-decade blues first.
In 1996, the regional Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) was short of the majority mark of 64 in the 126-member house. It stitched up an alliance with other regional and communist parties to form the government.
The Congress fared worse than AGP in 2006 but forged an alliance with Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) to retain power. After an overwhelming victory in 2011, it faces what is billed as the most unpredictable election. The BPF has switched over to BJP, which admits to have done a reality check on its Mission 84 seats. The saffron party’s failed bid to have AGP on board, analysts say, has betrayed a certain lack of confidence in going it alone.
The possibility of BJP and AGP splitting votes has put the Congress, battling anti-incumbency after 15 years of rule, on a stronger wicket. But the Congress too is wary of the uncertainties and has had parleys with AGP as well as AIUDF that has threatened its hold among the 34% Muslims in the state.
Muslims were said to be solidly behind Congress until the arrival of AIUDF and its now-defunct predecessor, United Minorities Front. With AIUDF expected to hold sway in Muslim-dominated districts of western, central and southern Assam, the Congress-BJP are likely to fight it out in some 80 seats, mostly in central and eastern Assam.
Both the mainstream parties, aware of the importance of non-Muslim voters who fear being overrun by illegal migrants, have been “exposing” each other’s “secret understanding” with the allegedly pro-Bangladeshi AIUDF. The AIUDF has hit back, going to the extent of naming its moles in the Congress and BJP.
The AIUDF’s association with Congress, allegedly soft towards Bangladeshis, is expected to help BJP reap dividends from the Bangladeshi phobia. The Congress, on the other hand, has labelled BJP and AIUDF as two sides of the same communal coin.
“Everyone knows who is communal. We are not pro-Bangladeshis but we don’t want genuine Indian citizens, Muslims or Hindus, to be victimised,” Ajmal said. The Bangladeshis issue has been a staple in every election since 1983; it helped BJP bag seven of 14 Lok Sabha seats in 2014. Mandate 2016 would be no different, but scheduled tribe status for six communities including “tea tribes” or Adivasis – another traditional Congress vote bank that BJP has eaten into – seems to have occupied as much space.
The issue of ‘secret killings’ – popular phrase for extra-judicial execution of 400 kin of United Liberation Front of Asom members – has also staged a comeback after the 2001 polls. The Congress is wielding it to hit out at both AGP and BJP.
“These killings happened (1998-2001) during the AGP rule with support from the then NDA government,” chief minister Tarun Gogoi said.
For AGP and newer parties such as Liberal Democratic Party, the issue is holding on to regionalism against mainstream parties. There are also the issues of development packages, corruption, mega dams, flood and erosion, tribal rights, boundary rows with adjoining north-eastern states and special status for Assam.