This new year, Assam will witness the most interesting election among all the states that are heading for their respective assembly elections.
There are strong reasons for this. The Congress, which has won three consecutive elections since 2001, claims it will make it four in a row despite the BJP’s record-win in seven of the state’s 14 Lok Sabha seats in 2014. The BJP feels that the people of Assam desperately want a change.
The Congress has its problems. While incumbency – and with it the related allegations of corruption, misrule and internal bickering – is one, the steady rise of Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) has already robbed the party of its traditional Muslim vote bank. It is now looking forward to a Bihar-type anti-BJP maha-alliance but the AIUDF is unlikely to join it despite the efforts of Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad; the gradual shrinking of the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) also doesn’t look inclined to help the Congress against the BJP. The once-powerful AGP is currently maintaining an equal distance from both parties despite signals from both.
The Congress has already flooded the roadsides with hoardings deriding the BJP’s ‘achche din’ with a punchline – Don’t underestimate the power of the common man! – borrowed from a Bollywood film. It has also started telling the people that the defection of 10 party MLAs led by Himanta Biswa Sarma who was once Tarun Gogoi’s most-trusted lieutenant, to the BJP had only rid the party of “all the diseases”.
For the BJP, which brought back union sports minister Sarbananda Sonowal as state president, it is definitely a very tough battle. It has two major problems: one, there are many tall promises of 2014 which remain largely unfulfilled, and two, the Congress has already started campaigning against the “past deeds” of Himanta Biswa Sarma. The BJP looks unsure of what to say on the two most important promises it made in 2014 – Scheduled Tribe status to six communities of the state and forcing Bangladeshi infiltrators to leave.
Assam has already seen a trailer of what electioneering will be like in the coming weeks: last week, the BJP and the Congress workers pelted stones and wielded sticks against each other when a group of BJP workers had gone to stage a dharna in front of the state Congress headquarters. The issue? A senior Congress leader had made a derogatory remark about Union HRD minister Smriti Irani and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.