BJP emergence in Assam: 2016 Assembly election - May 20, 2016

How did a party which had hardly any presence in the state till the end of the 1980s come so far?

Fifteen years ago, senior BJP leader and then Union Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani flew down to Guwahati, the capital of Assam, to stitch an alliance with the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) before the Assembly polls. After protracted negotiations, in a take-it-or-leave-it deal, the AGP allotted 46 seats to the BJP to contest in the 126-member House. Advani who termed the AGP the “elder brother” in the alliance, had to rest content with the AGP’s offer even though his party had wanted to contest at least 60 seats. 

Last month, it was the AGP which was very keen on stitching an alliance with the BJP, and the latter allotted just 24 seats to the party. The AGP protested, fumed, sulked and even threatened to walk out of the alliance, but the BJP remained firm and, ultimately, the AGP had to accept what it was offered.

Role of RSS

But beyond these numbers is the story of the selfless hard work and perseverance of hundreds of low-key and even faceless RSS workers and leaders. The RSS strategy of making the BJP an acceptable party in entire Assam, consolidating the Hindu vote in the state, winning over tea garden labours and also a large section of the Ahoms (the original inhabitants of the state, though they too migrated into Assam from southern China in the early 13th century).

But most importantly, the RSS successfully appropriated Assamese sub-nationalism, which had found wildly popular expression in the Assam agitation of the early 1980s, into its fold. The two most prominent and popular faces of the BJP in Assam—its chief ministerial candidate Sarbananda Sonowal and master strategist Himanta Biswa Sarma (even Tarun Gogoi rues losing Sarma to the BJP)—are products of the AASU-led Assam movement. Sonowal was president of the powerful AASU and then joined the AGP. He was an MLA and then a Lok Sabha MP of the AGP before he joined the BJP in early 2011.

Himanta Biswa Sarma also cut his teeth as a young AASU activist and even flirted with the ULFA before joining the Congress. He was a very powerful and highly efficient minister till he quit in protest against Gogoi’s style of functioning and the latter’s attempt to foist his novice son in a leadership role over the heads of other deserving Congress leaders. Sarma formally joined the BJP in August 2015. Since then, he has been relentlessly campaigning for the party all over the state and had a major role in crafting the BJP’s election strategy. Both Sonowal and Sarma are priceless assets for the BJP.

The RSS has also been inducting popular politicians from other parties into the BJP. Bijoya Chakraborty, BJP MP from Guwahati (she was also a minister of state in the Vajpayee cabinet), was with the Janata Party and then with the AGP. BJP Lok Sabha MP from Dibrugarh Rameshwar Teli was with the AASU, as was Ramen Deka, the MP from Mangaldoi. In fact, a majority of the 84 candidates who contested on the BJP ticket in the Assembly polls held earlier this month have never been members of the RSS or even attended a ‘shakha’.

As BJP is going to form the next government in Assam, it is a victory not only for the party, but also for the RSS. In fact, most of the credit for such a victory would be richly deserved by the RSS. And as BJP comes to power in Assam, it would only be a matter of time before the party gains power in some other states in the North-East.

- Prof. Mahesh Sane

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