Dotted with picturesque tea gardens and rich in natural resources that include the most potent oilfields in the country along the mighty Brahmaputra river, the upper Assam region contributes the highest revenue to the State. It is here that the BJP is making a determined effort to edge out the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) as the principal Opposition.
For the saffron party, a virtual nonentity until 2004, it is indeed an audacious attempt but certainly not without hope. The AGP, an offshoot of a violent movement against ‘illegal migrants’ from Bangladesh, is a far cry from what it was in its heyday in the 1980s.
So how does one explain the emergence of the BJP, which has no connect to any of the ethnic groups in the State, as a political entity in this belt? Part of the answer lies in the dramatic decline of the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) which rose like a tide in the 1980s only to fall into pieces gradually. Ironically, most of the prominent leaders of the saffron party were some time or the other known faces of the AGP.
Iqbal Ahmed, a veteran journalist associated with The Sentinel for nearly three decades, says, “The BJP in Assam has risen on the shoulders of the AGP. It conveniently used the AGP to further its agenda by setting it up on issues like the illegal migrants from Bangladesh. Today, the AGP stands discredited and deeply fragmented”.
Former student leader Sarbananda Sonowal was the first known AGP face to jump on to the BJP bandwagon. He was made the party’s State unit president. He was soon followed by the party’s founder-members and former powerful State ministers Chandramohan Patowary and Hiten Goswami.
Slowly but steadily, the BJP is expanding its base by working on the psyche of the people in the State who have been grappling with issues like shrinking economic opportunities.
The BJP has been blocking the Constitution amendment needed to ratify the India-Bangladesh pact on exchange of enclaves on the plea that unless the AGP and the Trinamool are on board it would not support it.
A drive along the national highway 37 from Dibrugarh shows the BJP is leaving nothing to chance to mount a high visible campaign.
Those vociferously supporting Modi want him to be a ‘given a chance’. The tea estate workers who account for a large percentage of voters have traditionally stood by the Congress. However, the emergence of a fiery pro-Marxist, Akhil Gogai, who is seen as an honest leader championing the cause of the tea estate workers, is proving to be a problem.