Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal takes questions from the media in Guwahati on Sunday. (PTI Photo) (PTI)
Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal takes questions from the media in Guwahati on Sunday. (PTI Photo) (PTI)

BJP 1st non-Congress govt to win consecutive terms in Assam

  • The BJP on its own had won or was leading in 59 seats, while its alliance partner the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the United Peoples Party Liberal (UPPL) were ahead in nine and six seats, respectively.
By Utpal Parashar, Guwahati
UPDATED ON MAY 03, 2021 07:39 AM IST

As predicted by most exit polls, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) returned to power in Assam, becoming the first non-Congress government to win consecutive terms in the northeastern state.

The party won 60 seats, the same number it did in 2016, of the total 126 seats while its alliance partners Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and United Peoples Party Liberal (UPPL) won 9 and 6 seats respectively

A party or alliance needs 64 seats to form government.

"This election result is the testimony to the peoples' endorsement of the policies and performance of the government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's principle of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas aur Sabka Vishwas. The results also prove the party's popularity among the people," Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said in a statement.

On the other hand, Congress won 29, three more than five years ago, while alliance partners All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) won 16, Bodoland Peoples’ Front (BPF) won 4 and CPI (M) bagged 1 seat.

Key candidates from BJP, Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal easily drubbed his Congress rival Rajib Lochan Pegu in Majuli, senior minister Himanta Biswa Sarma won from his home constituency Jalukbari for a fifth straight time and BJP state president Ranjeet Kumar Dass won in Patacharkuchi.

On the other hand, Congress state president Ripun Bora lost BJP’s Utpal Borah in the Gohpur seat and the party’s legislature party leader Debabrata Saikia managed to scrape past BJP’s Mayur Borgohain by just 683 votes in the Nazira seat.

"We will have deliberations on the results later. Money power and communal politics indulged by BJP played a part in the outcome. It seems voters are more concerned about instant gratification instead of long-term benefits. Our alliance with AIUDF didn't affect the outcome, we have tie-up with other parties as well," said Congress state president Ripun Bora who lost from the Gohpur seat.

Bora later submitted his resignation to Congress president Sonia Gandhi owning moral responsibility for the ‘humiliating defeat’.

In 2016, BJP had won 60 seats and formed its first government in Assam with support of AGP (14) and Bodoland Peoples Front (BPF), which bagged 12 seats. On the other hand, Congress had bagged 26 seats and AIUDF 13.

A number of factors helped the saffron party retain power despite predictions of Congress-led alliance of 10 parties, which included All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) and Bodoland Peoples Party (BPF) putting up a close fight.

“BJP unleashed a multi-pronged strategy for Assam election and it benefitted them. One of the key reasons for BJP’s win was targeted intervention aimed at almost communities by several schemes launched by the Sonowal government,” Kausthabh Deka, professor of political science, Dibrugarh University.

The schemes included giving 830 per month to nearly 1.7 million families, cash transfer to bank accounts of nearly 700,000 tea-garden workers, funds for religious bodies, several schemes for students, unemployed youths, sportspersons etc.

“The BJP managed to create a narrative about clash of civilizations by telling voters Assamese ‘sanskriti’ (culture) and identity was under threat from Muslims of Bangladeshi origin and targeted Lok Sabha MP Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), which had formed an alliance with Congress,” said Akhil Ranjan Dutta, professor of political science in Gauhati University.

Development works carried out by the BJP government especially setting up a network of good roads across the state including interior areas could have also benefitted the BJP.

“Covid19 acted as an oxygen cylinder for BJP which was at a critical point and having difficulty in breathing due to the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests raging across the state towards the end of 2019,” said Dutta.

The state government’s handling of the first wave of Covid19 last year could have led people to believe that having the same party in power at Centre and state during such a crisis would prove beneficial, said experts.

“BJP was successful in keeping the election debates outside the CAA ambit. The lockdown imposed due to Covid19 broke down the momentum of the anti-CAA protests and the way in which the state government especially health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma dealt with the crisis, benefitted the party,” said Deka.

On the other hand, Congress despite being able to cobble up an alliance of 10 parties and getting traction among voters with its 5 guarantees that included non-implementation of CAA, cash benefits to housewives, 200 units of free electricity, creation of 500,000 jobs and increase in daily wage of tea-garden workers, didn’t improve its performance.

“Congress failed to consolidate new ground. The party’s tie-up with AIUDF resulted in erosion of its core base in upper Assam. The party still lacks credibility among voters. Like 2016, the party was able to get a significant percentage of total votes, but it didn’t get converted to seats,” said Deka.

In 2016, Congress had secured nearly 31% votes (which was more than 1.5% of the BJP figure) and won 26 seats. This time, the party cornered 29.7% of the total votes while the BJP got over 33%.

Two newly formed regional parties, Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) and Raijor Dal (RD), which had fought the election together failed to leave any mark this time, but RD president Akhil Gogoi who is under arrest since December 2019 for his role in the anti-CAA protests, secured a win from the Sibsagar seat.

In the Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR) areas in lower Assam, United Peoples Party Liberal (UPPL), which is an alliance partner of BJP, managed to outrun Bodoland Peoples Front (BPF), which had won 12 seats in 2016. UPPL bagged 6 seats while BPF won 4, a loss of 8 seats since 2016.

With BJP set to return to power all eyes are now on who among incumbent Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and senior minister Himanta Biswa Sarma would be entrusted the top post by the party high command.

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