Prime Minister Narendra Modi was kicking off the BJP’s poll campaign in Assam on Tuesday, hoping to cash in on a new-found political alliance in the Northeastern state the party is hoping to wrest from Congress.
Election for Assam’s 126-member assembly is scheduled in April-May along with four other states and the BJP is making a serious effort to grab power from the Congress which has ruled the state for 15 consecutive years.
Modi is scheduled to attend a meeting of the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) at Kokrajhar, 236 km west of Guwahati, where he is expected to announce a Rs 2,000-cr development package for the Bodoland Territorial Council.
BPF, a Congress ally till recently, has been ruling the council since 2003 but more importantly for the BJP, the tribal party has gone unchallenged in at least 12 assembly seats since the 2006 polls.
“We have great expectations from the PM after our party sealed an alliance with the BJP at Amit Shah’s residence yesterday (Sunday) night,” former minister and senior BPF leader Pramila Rani Brahma told HT.
“The alliance has energised our campaign to retain the seats besides working out a plan to accommodate the BJP in areas where the BPF has considerable hold,” she said.
Former Congress health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, now the BJP’s poll campaign manager, said the political understanding with BPF has instilled confidence that the “alliance will sweep the assembly election”.
The BPF, incidentally, was an NDA constituent before Sarma weaned it away ahead of the 2006 assembly polls.
The BPF won 11 seats that year while the BJP won only five seats.
The Congress’ landslide victory in 2011 made the BPF reduntant. The latter broke off the alliance in 2014, indicating that it was gravitating back to the BJP.
While the BJP was upbeat about the alliance, chief minister Tarun Gogoi tried to rub it in.
“I have never seen a PM attending a meeting of a different political party. We had an alliance with BPF, but I as a CM did not need to attend its political meeting. This gives the impression that Modi and BJP are nervous and not at all confident of winning the election,” he said.
The Congress has also plastered the state with cartoons ridiculing Modi ahead of his trip, upping the ante in high-stakes battle for both parties.
“Aahise sapunor sadagor gagan fola bhashonere pratisruti diboloi…tenga aam punor besiboloi?” taunted one of the posters bearing a caricature of Modi.
These Assamese phrases translate into: “The dream merchant is coming to pierce the sky with lofty promises…will he sell you sour mangoes again?”
Himanta Biswa Sarma described it as “cheap campaign” and said the Congress “has brought in a new culture of abuse”.
Buoyed by its 2014 Lok Sabha election performance – it won seven of 14 constituencies – the BJP had earlier set its sights on winning 84 seats in Assam.
But the electoral loss in Bihar made it set a “more realistic” target with help from “like-minded parties”.
The PM’s programme on Tuesday also includes a Yuva Mahashakti Samaroh aimed at mustering support from voters aged 18-39 years, a sizeable force likely to be a deciding factor in the election.
“Modiji is expected to reach out to the youths of Assam and the rest of the northeast with his plans and schemes such as Startup India aimed at enterprising young people,” a BJP spokesperson said.
The PM would also be interacting with students of IIT, NIT and other central institutes at IIT Guwahati later in the day.