The day after the first phase of voting in Assam, where a high turnout has raised the BJP’s hopes, party president Amit Shah was in the state raising issues that matter emotionally to his audience — infiltration from Bangladesh, Assamese identity and Bhupen Hazarika — besides alleged corruption in the 15-year Tarun Gogoi government.
It would appear that Shah’s party has tried to take lessons from the Bihar debacle, avoiding whatever it might have perceived as wrong moves there. For example, the BJP is no longer caustic in its attack on minorities but speaks indirectly by stressing the need for fencing the Bangladesh border. India’s border agreement with Bangladesh may be a sore point with many Assamese but Shah says it was signed to clear the decks for fencing so that outsiders don’t encroach on Assam’s land.
Again, unlike the posters and the publicity material in Bihar that showcased Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shah prominently, the posters in Assam give chief ministerial candidate Sarbananda Sonowal as much space as Modi and Shah.
Third, while the BJP had been vitriolic against its rivals in Bihar, it gently mocks other parties in Assam — except that Shah makes repeated references to Italy. While alleging a clandestine understanding between the Congress and the AIUDF, Shah said, “In the daytime Gogoi and Badruddin Ajmal fight but in Guwahati at night they do I-L-U, I-L-U (I love you).” While talking about Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, Shah told his audience in Palashbari, “Press the button so hard in Palashbari that Italy feels the current.” In speech after speech, Shah has been targeting Rahul, “Please ask Rahul what his view on Bangladeshi infiltrators is. What will he do to stop them from coming to Assam?”
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Simultaneously, the BJP’s stress on nationalism was also at play in Palashbari. The audience chanted “Bharat Mata ki jai” as soon as Shah was on stage. “Bharat Mata ki jai” has, in fact, become the signature chant of the BJP in such meetings. It now appears to be reverberating in Assam.
Shah added local flavour by referring to Bhupen Hazarika to send across a message of “poriborton”. He recited from Hazarika’s song Bohagot jatiye snan korey, moliyon vastra holai, which describes how a nation bathes in the springtime (when the Bihu festival is held) and discards its old clothes. Shah told the audience that on May 19, when the results are out shortly after Bihu (April 14), Assam will discard the Congress for a new BJP government.
To boost the BJP’s position in Assam, the Centre has formed a committee to decide on a demand by six tribes for reservation. The BJP’s vision document promises ways will be found to include these six tribes without disturbing the existing reservation equation.
Again, before the election campaign started, Shah had got Rajnath Singh’s office to address the issue of Hindu refugees in Assam. The BJP openly wants them included as Indian citizens; Shah asserts that if Hindus are shunned in Europe, they have nowhere else to go but India. The Centre has expedited work on the National Register of Citizens.
After the loss in Bihar, Shah needs a success to start his three-year term. “Rashtravad (nationalism) se hi rashtra hai,” he told The Indian Express. “Unfortunately, due to lack of expressive words in English, we don’t have the right words to express our concept of secularism, which is sarva dharma sambhav. Secular is bin sampradayik, which is not what we want to convey to the world.”
He added, “ ‘State’ is not strong enough a word to define the state as we understand it. A state can’t be formed with the McMahon Line only. The state is formed by people who believe in Krishna and Ganga… even though they live in different regions.”