Why Assam polls will centre around ‘identity’ issue

The Congress says it has contributed “much more than the BJP can imagine” for protection of identity of the Assamese and other communities of the state.

Written by Samudra Gupta Kashyap | Guwahati | Published:March 22, 2016 7:21 pm
Tarun Gogoi, Narendra Modi, Assam, Assam elections, Assam polls, Assam assembly polls, BJP in Assam, Congress in Assam, terrorism in Assam Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi

The election fever is fast picking up in Assam, a state which goes to polls on April 4 and 11 for its 126-member assembly. And, even as the last date for filing nomination papers ended on Tuesday, the central issue – “identity” of the Assamese – is becoming more and more focused.

“The battle lines are drawn. The fight is clearly between those who want to protect the identity of the Assamese people, and those who are out to destroy it by protecting the illegal migrants. By Assamese of course we mean all indigenous communities as also those from other parts of India who have made Assam their home,” said union minister Sarbananda Sonowal, who is not just the state BJP president, but also named the party’s chief ministerial candidate. Sonowal and the BJP thus have also taken “all such like-minded parties and groups” on board, in the process also accusing the Congress and Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) of protecting the interests of the illegal migrants from Bangladesh.

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The Congress, which outrightly rejects the BJP allegation, says it has contributed “much more than the BJP can imagine” for protection of identity of the Assamese and other communities of the state. “It was because of the Congress that Assam was saved from being made part East Pakistan,” reminds veteran Congressman and three-time chief minister Tarun Gogoi, who also takes a dig at the BJP leaders for failing to understand Assam and its myriad problems. The AIUDF, which was born immediately after the Supreme Court had in 2005 struck down the controversial Illegal Migrants Determination by Tribunals) Act of 1983, however is silent on the “identity” issue. The party’s major vote-base is primarily among Muslims who have their roots in erstwhile East Bengal and erstwhile East Pakistan.

With the BJP succeeding in driving home its point that “identity” is the issue – one on which it also has the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), Bodo People’s Front (BPF), and organizations representing the Tiwa and Rabha communities, – the Congress has alleged that the saffron party was actually trying to polarize the voters on religious and communal lines. If that be true than Assam will be for the first time, voting on such lines. But then, to neutralize such an apprehension, both BJP and AGP have also fielded a number of Muslim candidates in this election.

What has in the meantime become clear is that with the “identity” issue made the central focus of this election, no side appears to talk much about the numerous big and small scams in which all the major contending parties have been involved. The state had in the past 15 years seen several alleged scams, including one involving Rs 1000 crores in the Dima Hasao hill district, as well as the Saradha scam and the Louis Berger scam. But while those happened during Congress rule, the BJP has a ‘technical’ problem in highlighting on them; the name of its campaign committee chief Himanta Biswa Sarma, who was till recently in the Congress, was often dragged into some of those alleged scandals.

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