Of the four states and a Union Territory going to polls, Assam offers BJP — smarting from electoral setbacks in Delhi and Bihar — its best shot at victory.
The party’s bid to end the Congress’ 15-year run will depend on how it performs in the first phase on Monday, covering 65 of the 126 assembly constituencies in the ethnically diverse state prone to conflicts and polarisation on the issue of illegal migrants aka Bangladeshis. These seats, distributed across Assam’s eastern half, Barak Valley in the south and two hill districts in between, have been Congress strongholds.
The party had won 54 of its 78 seats from these regions in the 2011 assembly polls and is confident of retaining them.
The BJP hopes to gain from anti-incumbency as well as consolidation of indigenous votes due to its alliance with the regional Asom Gana Parishad and Bodoland People’s Front. The AGP, the Congress’ main rival since 1985, hasn’t been in good health after losing power in 2001. BPF was the Congress’ ruling ally for eight years until 2014.
The BJP has never won more than 10 assembly seats since its debut election in 1985. But the 2014 Lok Sabha show — the party won seven of 14 parliamentary seats — has fuelled its confidence this time.
Four of these seats straddle eastern Assam’s tea belts where plantation workers are a major voting force. The Adivasis, or “tea tribes”, have been a traditional Congress vote bank BJP claims to have penetrated.
The party sees the sizeable Bengali Hindus as loyalists too, as it has promised citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from Bangladesh. “We will win by uprooting the corrupt and family-centric Congress,” Sarbananda Sonowal, BJP’s state president and CM candidate, said.
“Bengali Hindus have seen through BJP’s fake promises while plantation workers know BJP has deprived them of free rations,” chief minister Tarun Gogoi said.
The BJP, positioning Mandate 2016 as a fight between indigenous and illegal migrants, is also banking on its assurance to grant Scheduled Tribe status to six Assam communities, most of whom inhabit the eastern
Assam seats. Phase 1 will decide the fate of both Gogoi and Sonowal, who are contesting Titabor and Majuli assembly seats 40km apart.