National Election Study Comment

Assam: BJP’s entry in North East

Assam was among the few States where the Congress party had been very optimistic about pulling off a good performance.

In the run up to the Lok Sabha elections, Assam was among the few States where the Congress party had been very optimistic about pulling off a good performance based on Tarun Gogoi’s performance as Chief Minister. However when the final results came, it turned out to be a hugely embarrassing loss for the Congress and Mr. Gogoi himself. The State that recorded a massive voter turnout of 80 per cent, an eleven percentage point jump since 2009, threw up a big surprise.

The BJP emerged on top winning half of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in the State, a gain of three seats since 2009. The vote share of the party was equally impressive at 36.5 per cent. The Congress, on the other hand, could manage to win only three seats (down four since 2009) with an overall vote share of 29.6 per cent. Its ally, the BPF, lost the only seat (Kokrajhar) it had won in 2009. The other gainer in Assam, apart from the BJP, was Badruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF, which retained its hold over the State’s heavily Muslim-dominated areas winning three seats. The AGP expectedly drew a blank. Many of the top State BJP leaders are ex-stalwarts of the AGP which also seems to have worked in the BJP’s favour.

All gains for the BJP were in the Brahmaputra valley, retaining its three seats and wresting four more from the Congress. The tea workers constituting a major chunk of population in Upper Assam played a decisive role in ensuring BJP’s win especially in Dibrugarh and Jorhat where the party put up influential candidates belonging to the tea community that had traditionally backed the Congress. A Post Poll survey data also gives an indication as to why the BJP may have done well.

The survey points to a clear Hindu consolidation and given the fact that the turnout was so high in the State this time, this may have made all the difference to the final outcome. According to the survey, 63 per cent of the Assamese speaking Hindus and 62 per cent of the Bengali speaking Hindus voted for the BJP .

The BJP was able to win over the Assamese Hindus, who had once constituted the AGP’s backbone, through its consistent stand against Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants. But Hindu consolidation in favour of the BJP alone cannot explain the BJP’s victory unless we also analyse how the Muslims, who are 31 per cent of Assam’s population, voted.

Was there a counter consolidation of Muslims? The answer to that question is in the negative. The Muslim community of Assam does not seem to have voted for the Congress with the same intensity as the Hindus voted for the BJP. The survey shows that while 42 per cent Muslims in Assam voted for the Congress, 39 per cent voted for the AIUDF. If we look at the voting preference of Bengali Muslims specifically, the AIUDF was actually ahead of the Congress receiving 45 per cent of the Bengali Muslim vote whereas the Congress netted 36 per cent. A consolidated Hindu vote and a divided Muslim vote therefore was one of the key reasons for the BJP’s victories.

It seems that the Congress’ alliance with the Bodoland Peoples Front (BPF), a party seen as patronising tribal militants in their bloody anti-non-tribal campaigns, irked members of the minority community who had been targeted by the militants. The AIUDF, by giving voice to their grievances, became the party of choice for the Bengali-speaking Muslims in Lower Assam. Nevertheless, the outcome does suggest a possibility of communal polarization in the future and that may be a crucial trend set by this election.

Dhruba P. Sharma is Assitant Professor in the Department of Political Science, Gauhati University, Assam.

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Printable version | Apr 5, 2020 3:25:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/assam-bjps-entry-in-north-east/article6151572.ece

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