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Saffron rising in green State

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Saffron rising in green State

The BJP's historic win in Assam, signalling a major political shift in the region, is a crucial step in concretising Prime Minister Narendra Modi's vision for the party's North East outreach

May 19 ushered in a new dawn in Assam — a dawn that held the promise of change and hope for a better future, or as some would say, achche din. Expanding its political clout beyond the traditional bastion and dislodging the Congress Government in the North-Eastern State after 15 long years, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) registered a thumping victory that not only signals a major political shift in the State but also the beginning of the realisation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision for North-East outreach.

The wait is over. Finally, the lotus bloomed bright in both the Barak and Brahmaputra Valleys. The BJP, in rank and file, sensed triumph on the morning of May 19, when initial trends suggested big wins for the party in every nook and corner of the State. Gradually, the party’s tally went up to 61 — just short of a few seats to touch the magic number on its own. And the allies? The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) office in the city was throbbing with celebrations of poll victory of many top leaders, including Party President Atul Bora from Bokakhat, former Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta from Borhampur, veteran leader Pradip Hazarika from Amguri, who defeated Congress candidate and daughter of APCC President Anjan Dutta.    

The scene at the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) office was far less celebratory though. The party failed to fare well on all seats; with its strength fallen, it had to make do with just 12 seats. Both the AGP and BPF had struck the pre-poll advantage to piggyback on the BJP’s growing popularity. The AGP performed well, bagging 14 seats, and while the BPF may not have retained all seats, Hagrama Mohilary and his party proved beyond doubt that they are still a force to reckon with in BTAD areas. Defying the anti-incumbency hurdles, the party retained 12 seats and the leadership is sure of a ministerial berth in the new BJP-led coalition Government.

The hope of a fourth straight term for the ruling Congress was blighted with frustration in the face of the surging tallies of the BJP and its allies. Unlike the last two terms, the anti-incumbency factors against Tarun Gogoi’s Government worked, which was why the ruling party had to remain satisfied with just 25 seats. 

The AIUDF, which till the other day claimed to be the kingmaker, also failed to fare well. Party President Badruddin Ajmal’s tall claims proved futile when his party retained only 13 seats from the previous strength of 18. The party President also lost his seat from South Salmara. 


What is it that changed the wheel of the BJP’s fortune in Assam? The credit goes to Modi and Party president Amit Shah, who have been managing the entire scheme of things from Delhi with an active support from the RSS leadership, which has been concentrating on the N-E region for a considerable period of time.

They have no dearth of mechanism to make their presence felt in the strategic region, but would only fall to a stony ground in the absence of a clear cut mechanism to implement these strategies. Modi’s leadership made it possible for the RSS to find the right track for the BJP to make its presence felt in the region where Assam is the gateway. A strong presence in Assam is a huge advantage for the BJP in the entire region. That’s why both the BJP and RSS concentrated on this State and its people.

The central BJP leadership was able to gauge the political pulse of the N-E State in 2014 when the party put up a promising performance in the Lok Sabha Elections under the leadership of Sarbananda Sonowal. Modi rolled out the red carpet into his Cabinet for this tribal leader and MP from Lakhimpur, which no less helped the party woo the State’s people in the 2016 Assembly polls.

Secondly, a rare dose of announcement for the poll-bound Assam from the Centre paved the way for the party to get the support where it swept the municipality polls last year.

The third secret of the poll success was the calculated campaign masterminded by the party’s central leadership which proceeded in consultation with the local leadership, unlike in Bihar where the party had to face a humiliating defeat. Both Modi and Shah deployed a few selected party leaders, including Smriti Irani, to woo the people, which finally worked to oust the Congress Government from Dispur.

Another clincher was the pre-poll alliance with the AGP and BPF. The AGP has been enjoying the BJP’s strength, while the BPF is still a force to reckon with in BTAD areas. The AGP, which contested on 25 seats, won 14, and the BPF retained 12 seats. Sonowal’s victory in Majuli, even without any pre-poll groundwork, suggests a massive support in favour of the BJP in Assam.

Unlike Bihar, another strategy which helped the party come to power in the State was the projection of Sonowal as the Chief Ministerial candidate. The strong tribal leader is accepted by the people irrespective of caste, creed or religion. And even though he is a tribal leader, his popularity is not confined only to the tribals. He was the only face in the Lok Sabha polls which threatened to wipe out the Congress in 2014. He managed to weave the same magic in the Assembly Elections. He was given the Sports and Youth Affairs Ministry, a portfolio key to wooing the younger generation — the BJP’s target vote bank. His leadership as the chairman at the recently concluded South Asian Games in Guwahati and Shillong took him and his party closer to the people.

This is apart from his initiative to hold the National Youth festival in Guwahati last year. For the first time, the region hosted a huge event at the initiative of Sonowal, the then Minister for sports, youth welfare and skill development. The support was overwhelming. Sonowal, during his tryst with the AGP, hogged the limelight a couple of years ago when the Supreme Court struck down the IMDT Act as he challenged it.


Political experts are of the opinion that the induction of Himanta Biswa Sarma immensely helped the BJP put up a good show in the polls. Sarma’s shift to the BJP along with a few of his close associates did, in fact, hinder the ruling party’s poll prospects.

The poll victory seems to have paved the way for the saffron party to have a deep grip on the political domain in the entire N-E region. The BJP’s uncompromising stand on bombs and bullets seems to have brought a ray of hope for a section of people. The ULFA(I) had warned the party of dire consequences if one of its candidate, Bhaskar Sarma, was allowed to contest in Margherita. But the party leadership defied the diktat and announced Sarma’s name to take on senior Congress leader Pradyut Bordoloi, who was ultimately defeated.

The people of Assam are fed up with the insurgents and the party leadership took a bold step in this context.

Indeed, it was more than a litmus test for the BJP in the entire N-E where the leadership has been struggling to make its presence felt. The poll victory is a huge shot in the arm for the ruling party at the Centre a couple of months after the Bihar blunder. The BJP strategists had categorically denied a Bihar-like fate in Assam where caste politics does not work.


The victory in Assam might change the entire political landscape in the N-E region. This comes a few months after the party had played a huge role in Arunachal Pradesh where Nabam Tuki had to leave the hot seat for his former acolyte, Kalikho Pul, who was leading the dissident brigade with the help of the BJP. Without the initial and tacit support from the BJP, would Pul have succeeded in dislodging Tuki? Now the Pul Government seems to be oxygenated by the saffron party. And very soon, it may make the Arunachal Pradesh Government of its own.

All this only points to the BJP’s growing popularity. It has already overpowered the Congress in Dispur; it would not be a daunting task for the party to capture the entire N-E in the post Assam poll scenario. That’s what the RSS and BJP have been planning for the last couple of years.

The BJP’s other target is Manipur where days are not far when the Okram Ibobi Singh Government might fall. Causing a major headache for the Congress leadership, some of its legislators have been up in arms against the Chief Minister, venting out their old grievances. Initial efforts to pacify these dissidents failed. How long will it be allowed to continue? The saffron party has gathered strength in Assam, and it would encourage the party leadership to do an Arunachal Pradesh in Manipur and Ibobi might just loose his chair.

The scenario is no different in Meghalaya. The political wind that has been blowing two years before the Assembly polls in the State suggests a gradual rise in the popularity of the BJP. Party workers are working tirelessly to make inroads into this remote State. Now, it will be easy for the party to mobilise the people across the State where anti-incumbency is waiting to work against the Mukul Sangma Government two years later. The BJP might strike the advantage much earlier. The party has maintained a good rapport with the National People’s Party, which is why it backed late Purno Sangma’s son Conrad in the Tura Lok Sabha bypolls, who won with a massive margin.

In Nagaland, the party has already struck a deal with the NPF, where they enjoy a coalition. Two years remain for the next Assembly polls. Despite simmering differences with the NPF leadership, the BJP has not withdrawn its support. And that’s the way it has been trying to make its presence felt in the State. The victory in Assam will definitely help the BJP strengthen its organisational base in Nagaland.


What could perhaps make things difficult for Sonowal to function smoothly is the infighting among party leaders. According to media reports, newly inducted BJP leader Himanta has no dearth of strategies to smartly overtake Sonowal, who is likely to take oath as the new Chief Minister.

Himanta, who joined the party with his loyalists from the Congress, is believed to be leading a faction which could derail Sonowal’s prospects, if they are not compensated handsomely. Sarma had led the dissidence in the Congress with an eye on the coveted CM chair. Will he be satisfied with any position less powerful than the CM? Sarma, who had been receiving support from the probable winnable BPF, AGP, AIUDF candidates, might lobby in New Delhi for the CM’s post. Otherwise, he might just break the pre-poll alliance to show his political might.

Though Sonowal would be sworn in as the new Chief Minister of Assam, huge challenges await him as nothing but the CM’s chair would be able to appease Sarma, who lead the damaging dissidence against Gogoi before pulling out of the ruling party.

It was Sarma, who in consultation with the party high command, fielded Sonowal in Majuli in the Assembly polls without any groundwork in support of the State party president. Even Sonowal was unprepared at that moment. The development was sudden. Was it to keep Sonowal at bay? Luckily things worked out in favour of Sonowal, and how!

Apart from that it would be difficult for the incumbent BJP Chief Minister to rein in the AGP and BPF legislators, who had started lobbying for ministerial berths much ahead of the counting day. The AGP, which claims to have contributed a lot to help the BJP come to power, is claiming a major share. Same is the case with the BPF. The RSS might play a huge rule in the formation of the BJP-led Government at Dispur. If the vital berths are given to coalition partners, what will remain for the BJP except the hot seat?

In 2011, the party put up a brave fight. It even held its national executive meeting in Guwahati just before the Assembly Polls. But the anti-incumbency factor did not work. Now, Assam is the first N-E State to be ruled by a BJP-led Government. In the pre-poll scenario, the party announced a vision document for the State. Party leaders have been talking of corruption and inefficiency of the Congress Government, but it is crucial that the new Government tries to feel the pulse of the people and lives up to their expectations.




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