A tale of two Congress guarantees: one clicked, another did not

Monetary in nature, they were aimed at two small but significant groups — the tea garden community, and homemakers

Updated - July 06, 2022 12:38 pm IST

Published - May 07, 2021 08:08 pm IST

 Congress party office wears a deserted look after the results of Assam Assembly Election 2021 were announced, in Guwahati, on Sunday, May 2, 2021.

Congress party office wears a deserted look after the results of Assam Assembly Election 2021 were announced, in Guwahati, on Sunday, May 2, 2021.

Apart from stitching up a grand social coalition of various parties in the elections, the Congress also devised a strategy of wooing certain specific sections of society through its five guarantees to the people of Assam. Two of these guarantees were monetary in nature and were aimed at two small but significant groups — the tea garden community, and homemakers. To the tea garden workers, the Congress promised an increase in daily wages from the existing ₹167 to ₹365. To the homemakers, it promised monthly support of ₹2,000. The post poll survey data suggests that while one guarantee clicked to some extent, the other failed to help the Congress in any way.

Guarantee that flopped

Despite the Congress’s wage hike promise to the tea garden community, we find that voters from the community did not give it much credence and instead shifted their allegiance to the Bharatiya J,anata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) this time, that too in a big way. Nearly three-fifths of them (58%) as per Lokniti’s post-poll survey, voted for the NDA, up from 33% in the 2016 elections (Table 1). The Congress, on the other hand, registered a sharp decline in their support, falling from 64% last time to less than a third (29%) this time. It seems that some last minute announcements by the BJP government, particularly the decision to distribute ₹3,000 each to tea garden workers under the Chah Bagicha Dhan Puraskar Mela Scheme in early February, may have tilted the scale in favour of the BJP among this segment of voters. Our survey found nearly three-fifths of tea garden community households to have benefited from the Puraskar scheme and two-thirds (63%) of them ended up voting for the NDA.

Significantly, and quite contrary to many pre-election media reports about their working conditions, the survey also found most tea garden community members to be quite satisfied with the condition of tea garden workers under the BJP government. On being read out the proposition that the plight of workers under the Sonowal government had deteriorated, a plurality of them (49%) disagreed with it, whereas 41% agreed. In 2016, when we had asked the same question with respect to the Tarun Gogoi government, most tea garden community members (70%) had spoken of deterioration.

Guarantee that worked

The promise that seems to have worked for the Congress, at least to some extent, is the one it made to homemakers. The post poll survey finds, that while overall among women it was the NDA that led the Mahajot by three percentage points, among homemakers specifically (63% of the women identified themselves as so), it was the Mahajot that was ahead — 47% to 39% (Table 2). We also find that the advantage for the Congress was particularly strong among those homemakers whose monthly household income was less than ₹5,000 — the Mahajot secured 64% of their vote. Of course, homemakers from wealthier households were not attracted to this promise and the majority of them chose the NDA over the Mahajot.

Shreyas Sardesai is a Research Associate at Lokniti-CSDS, Delhi; Nurul Hassan is Assistant Professor, Kampur College, Nagaon. He is also Lokniti’s State Supervisor for Assam

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