BJP’s maiden electoral victory ending the 15-year rule of Tarun Gogoi-led Congress government, protests against a proposed bill granting citizenship status to Hindu Bangladeshis and arrest of Assam Public Service Commission in cash-for-job scam were some of the major developments in Assam during 2016. The state witnessed sporadic incidents of violence.
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Fourteen people were killed by NDFB militants at a market place in Kokrajhar in August while three army personnel were gunned down by ULFA-I militants at Pengeri in Tinsukia district. Rhino killings in the state continued unabated with 16 pachyderms falling prey to poachers while human-elephant conflict assumed alarming proportions with nearly 20 elephants killed during the year despite eviction drives of encroachers from Kaziranga and Manas national parks.
The assembly elections were a litmus test for the BJP which launched an aggressive campaign to make its foray into the northeast with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah leading the campaign. BJP and its allies registered a historic win in the two-phase elections in April capturing 88 seats while Congress, adversely affected by a strong anti-incumbency factor, managed to win only 26 of the 122 seats it contested.
BJP, led by then Union minister Sarbananda Sonowal, registered wins in 60 of the 89 seats it contested while its allies– AGP won 14 seats, BPF 12 and the Rabha and Tiwa Aikya Manchas a seat each. Chief Minister Sonowal and his 10-member cabinet took oath of office at a grand public ceremony attended by top brass of the party, including Modi, Shah, veteran L K Advani and all chief ministers of BJP-ruled states.
BJP’s winning spree continued in the subsequent bypoll to the Lok Sabha seat vacated by Sonowal and the Baithalangso assembly constituency. The going for the new government, however, has not been as smooth as its ascent to power with widespread protests against the Centre’s decision to privatise some oilfields rocking the state within the first month itself.
The matter continues to simmer but has taken a back seat to another major issue that came to the fore following the introduction of the bill to grant citizenship to Hindu refugees from Bangladesh. Finance, Education and Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has been the most vocal supporter of the Hindu citizenship issue though a section of the BJP state leaders have expressed reservation on this issue.
BJP’s alliance partner AGP also voiced concern over the step along with all Opposition parties, influential organisations like All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), intellectuals and a cross-section of Assamese society. The state had witnessed a long-drawn agitation over the issue of illegal migration from Bangladesh leading to the signing of the Assam Accord, many of whose clauses are yet to be implemented, and majority of the state’s population are not ready to accept citizenship status for any migrants irrespective of their religion.
Close on the heels of this issue, Sarma announced that all madrasas in the state which had earlier observed Friday as a holiday will henceforth have their weekly holiday on Sunday leading to widespread resentment and protests in minority-dominated areas. The arrest of Assam Public Service Commission (APSC) chairman Rakesh Paul, who was subsequently removed from office, and four others brought to fore the cash-for-job scam with the ruling BJP pointing fingers at the former Congress government in the state but the charges were denied.
The Congress cried foul when the Centre removed the NSG security of former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi within a year of the party’s loss in the state. Gogoi claimed grave injustice by the Centre saying it acted suo moto as the state government informed him that no report was sent regarding removal of his security cover.