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Assam Elections – A chance for BJP’s redemption and Challenges for Congress Party - Jan 06, 2016

After 15 years of Congress rule, Election Campaign for the 126 seats in Assam is set to be stormy and a lot more nail biting finish is expected this time around. The reasons for the same are manifold.

  1. Congress is fighting anti – incumbency which comes along with its 15 year tenure.
  2. It no longer enjoys the services of its strongman, Himanta Biswa Sharma who is believed to be the architect behind the last Assembly success of Assam.
  3. BJP has gained considerable ground since the last Lok Sabha elections when it surprisingly won 7 out of the 14 seats on offer in Assam. The Municipal elections that followed further consolidated the BJP cadres at the grassroots when it won around 38 out of the 70 odd municipal councils and corporations.
  4. Congress no longer enjoys the backing of Bodoland Peoples Front which had 12 members in the outgoing assembly. Moreover there is reasonable chance of and an umbrella organization of 8-10 tribal organizations along with BPF switching sides and fighting in coalition with the BJP. This can spell more trouble for the Congress.
  5. The only bonus for Congress is that it can think of having a tacit understanding with the perfume baron run AIUDF which commands a major chunk of the Muslim population. Notably the Muslim population is now around 35% of the total Assam population according to 2011 Census and can play a deciding role on the fate of 70-80 seats. Besides the shrewd politician in Badruddin Ajmal would mostly try and avoid having a pre-poll alliance with the Congress to avoid consolidation of Hindu votes and to increase his bargaining power with the Congress in the event of a hung assembly. It best suits Congress, AIUDF and all other champions of Mahagathbandhan to avoid consolidation of Hindu votes in their quest of usurping power in Assam.
  6. Asom Gana Parishad, though it now enjoys just a marginal presence, can thus turn out to be a game changer for either of the 2 sides. It can help the NDA cross the majority mark or can bring back the Congress party in the contention by cutting in the local tribal votes.
  7. Smaller parties like TMC stand a heavy chance of aligning with the AIUDF to ensure being on good terms with the Muslim population which is key to it retaining Bengal in the coming year. Besides TMC will try and use AIUDF as a counterforce to the ever increasing ambitions of Asaduddin Owaisi led AIMIM which can otherwise prove to be a spoiler for TMC in West Bengal.
  8. Nitish Kumar will try his best to once again become an architect of Mahagathbandhan in Assam to help propel and further cement his position in national politics. Arvind Kejriwal led AAP has little role to play in this election as it is the Congress party which is slated to be the dominant party opposing BJP in Assam and hence he cannot take the lead in ensuring Congress led victory. He might also support AIUDF to please his Muslim electorate and create grounds for his Prime Ministerial aspirations.
  9. BJP stands a good chance in Upper Assam but Lower Assam is its clear weakness. Its success depends primarily on how well Sarabananda Sonowal and Himanta Biswa Sharma team up, listing of the local inhabitants/tribals in the ST category list (A demand which is long overdue), bagging votes of some of the local Muslim inhabitants and tea plantation labourers and using the anti-incumbency against the Congress to the best of its advantage. In the event of Congress sensing eminent defeat it will resort to scorch earth policy by announcing massive freebies which would put excessive burden on the state exchequer and leave little funds for other developmental purposes for the next government, like it did at the Centre and in Maharashtra.
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