Assam Assembly elections | CAA, NRC evoke mixed sentiments

Though the law was not a priority for most voters, a majority of them opposed it

Updated - November 27, 2021 04:09 pm IST

Published - May 07, 2021 10:36 pm IST

Women stage a protest against CAA and NRC in Dibrugarh district. File

Women stage a protest against CAA and NRC in Dibrugarh district. File

In both Assam and West Bengal, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) was a contentious issue. However, unlike in West Bengal, CAA faced bipartisan resistance in Assam, with calls for the cut-off date to be clocked back to 1971, as agreed in the Assam Accord of 1986. For the National Register of Citizens (NRC), the debate was centred on concerns around the process, rather than the concept itself. Just 3% of respondents in the Lokniti-CSDS post-poll survey mentioned CAA/NRC as the most important issue in the election. Almost one-third (30%) of respondents mentioned ‘development’ as the key issue.

While the CAA-NRC might not have come up as the most popular issue, a majority of voters (53%) opposed the CAA. There was a 10-percentage advantage to Mahajot among the ones against the law, while the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by 30% votes among those backing the CAA. Clearly, the NDA was successful in ensuring that CAA does not become a poll issue. As a result, even among opponents of the law, NDA polled 38% votes.

image/svg+xmlNote: Figures are percentages and may not add up to 100 due to roundingVote choice of supporters and opponents of CAA, NRCand NRC processVoted forMahajotVoted forNDAVoted forAJP-RDVoted forothersCAASupport(20%)306028Oppose(53%)483886Non-Committal(27%)444629NRC conceptSupport(75%414856Oppose(10%)51291010Non-Committal(16%)494038NRC processSatisfed(58%)405236Dissatisfed(25%)5230118Non-committal(17%)4542310

Even though opposition to CAA was high across both Hindus and Muslims, the latter were more likely to be against it, with 61% reporting opposition as against 47% of Hindu voters. Across ethnicities, Assamese Muslims recorded the highest opposition, with three-fourths (73%) against it, followed by Bengali Muslims (59%), Assamese Hindus (51%) and Bengali Hindus (40%).

It’s possible that the BJP sensed the dissatisfaction among voters regarding the CAA and steered away from making it the poll plank. In contrast, for the NRC, as high as three in four respondents reported support, as against one in 10 who opposed it.

image/svg+xmlNote: Figures are percentages; the rest of the respondents were non-committal on each questionStand on CAA, NRC, and NRC process by religion andethnicityCAANRC conceptNRC processSupportOpposeSupportOpposeSatisfedDissatisfedOverall205375105825ReligionHindus23477395922Muslims156174135631Christians17658937219EthnicityAssameseHindus205172105327AssameseMuslims11738697321BengaliHindu34407997513BengaliMuslims165974125334Others21517496021

Overall, a large proportion of respondents, irrespective of religion, said they were satisfied with the way NRC was implemented in the State. Again proving to be a divider, among people who were satisfied with the process, the Mahajot trailed behind the NDA by 12% votes, while among those who recorded dissatisfaction, it enjoyed an advantage of 22% votes. The dissatisfaction was greater among Bengali Muslims (34%) and Assamese Hindus (27%).

Notably, over half (51%) of dissatisfied Assamese Hindus still backed the NDA, but among the rest, the votes were split between the Mahajot (19%) and the Assam Jatiya Parishad-Raijor Dal (AJP-RD) alliance (25%), with the latter emerging as a more favourable choice while voting. The ‘infiltrator/refugee’ narrative of the NDA, particularly targeting the Badruddin Ajmal-led-All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), a Congress ally, perhaps explains this shift to the AJP-RD front.

Two-thirds (63%) of respondents still consider foreigners’ issue important, while 16% think that it has been blown out of proportion. This view was more prevalent among Assamese Hindus (75%) and Muslims (72%) than Bengali Hindus (52%) and Muslims (50%), strengthening the ‘insiders-outsiders’ debate. A solution seems far, as only 39% of respondents thought that the issue can be resolved upon updating the NRC, while 33% opposed that idea.

The author is a researcher at Lokniti-CSDS, Delhi

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