Having banked on a division in the Muslim vote in Assam, which it hopes will be its gateway to the Northeast, the BJP is now looking warily at Monday’s high voter turnout, especially in Muslim-dominated seats.
The BJP had gone into the elections hoping that a Muslim vote split would bring some of those seats to its ally the AGP — or that those would at least remain with the AIUDF, which would have indirectly helped the BJP. Now, the apprehension in the BJP is that many of those seats could have gone to the Congress, admitted a BJP leader. “Except in some areas, those long queues may not have been our voters,” the leader said.
At the same time, BJP sources also listed factors that would “work in the party’s favour” — a controversy-free and moderate yet intense campaign, a strong chief ministerial candidate announced very early. “The major advantage will be that we could prevent possible tactical voting by Muslims and could ensure a division in the Muslim vote,” said the leader.
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A Union minister and the party leader both said projecting a young face against Gogoi was an advantage. “Sarbananda Sonowal worked hard and did not get distracted at all,” the Union minister said. And the party leader said, “There was no controversy during the campaign, which meant we could focus on development.”
The Union minister listed two other factors as having helped the BJP — the Congress government’s “failure in reaching out to rural voters with welfare schemes” and “palpable apprehensions” among Congress leaders about Gogoi’s move to promote his MP son Gaurav. “No government programme has reached the people on the ground in the last three years. While Gogoi and Himanta Biswa Sarma [now in the BJP] were fighting, corruption became rampant in Assam,” the minister said.
Minority Affairs Minister Najma Heptulla, meanwhile, suggested another reason why she thinks the BJP will gain in Assam, as well as in West Bengal — Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Saudi Arabia soon after his address at the World Sufi Forum.
“The Prime Minister goes to the event of whoever goes to him [approaches him with invitation]. The organisers of the World Sufi Forum went to him [and] it also sent a very good message in Assam and West Bengal,” Heptulla said during a media interaction called to discuss the impact of Modi’s visit to Saudi Arabia, about which the prime minister had spoken at length during his campaign speeches in Assam.