A year after the first lockdown announced by the Prime Minister on 24th March 2020, things seemed to be getting back on track. Five states and a Union Territory thus headed towards legislative assembly polls, with millions of people gearing up to celebrate the biggest festival of democracy. On 2nd March 2021, when the election notification was issued, India had just 15000 cases. But after a month of rigorous campaigning by various political parties, when Assam cast its votes in the third phase, India’s situation was already taking a turn for the worse with a lakh more cases being recorded. This turning of events made the Assam elections even more important for the Bharatiya Janata Party, as along with maintaining their breakthrough in the North-East, they also had to counter a backlash from the indigenous communities on account of CAA, besides the dampener of their southern push.
'Road'-Map for Victory
As a famous saying goes for political tactics in India, “Make roads, get votes”, which worked perfectly well for the saffron party in continuing its relentless walk through Assam onto the pedestal of becoming the state's first non-congress party to hold office for two continuous terms. With the wealth gap widening in India more than ever before, one capital that the poor will always be rich off in is the “electoral capital”. From better connectivity roads to subsidised kerosene, to mega bridges along with free rice, the population thought they were getting the benefits of the schemes. To dwell upon that, our Prime Minister restated the importance of having a double engine of state and national government to improve the efficiency of schemes and parlay the benefits of “vocal for local”, which helped BJP to put the finishing touch before the state went to vote. “Mitron (friends)” has proved to be a lucky term for BJP, and persevering the same Mitrajot (group of friends), the NDA led alliance won 75 out of 126 assembly seats in the state. The alliance lost its former ally Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) but found its new friend in the United People's Party Liberal (UPPL). Though the number of seat tally went down by 6 since the last elections, it is not a spoiling stroke as the alliance increased its voter percentage to 40.5 per cent from 37.6 per cent in 2016.
Stra(tea)gy of a Chai Wala
When the BJP MLA went for his campaign to a tea plantation not one hour away from Dirbrugarh, the largest city of upper Assam, and promised connection with the electric grid, a voice from the garden stood and asked the proper timelines as of when and hows and not just fake promises to win elections which are made once every five years. The tea estate had electricity within weeks. This was the voice of lakhs of unheard plantation workers, who are lured at the end of every five years and it reassures our faith in the ballot and in democracy. All parties visit the tea gardens months before elections. This time too did the leading parties, Congress and BJP, along with the newly formed regional parties, Raijor Dal (RD) and Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJD), took a trip with the ‘tea tribes’, as they are known. These tea tribes constitute a very important section of ‘voter bank’ which every party wants to secure by hook or by crook. It was a battle of Priyanka Gandhi’s sympathies for the workers versus “Who can understand the problems of tea workers better than a chai-wala?” Both Narendra Modi and Congress promised to raise the daily wages of tea tribes to Rs. 365 and transfer Rs 5000 under the 'Chah Bagicha Dhan Puraskar Scheme'. Clearly, the groundwork that RSS did for BJP over the years by developing a connection hammered out their desired results.
Anti CAA or Pro Identity?
This was a very important election from the purview of rage against the Citizen Amendment Act. It seemed to be a great chance for Congress to tap the Anti-CAA sentiment in their favour, and they promised to uproot the contentious legislation should they come to power. But seven months before the elections they dug their own grave by joining hands with AIUDF, which is known to be born to protect the identity of Bangladeshi infiltrators, which the Assamese are fighting against. Here the BJP was able to befog the CAA issue and change the narrative to ‘Hindus vs Muslims’ by creating polarisation over religious lines through their ‘identity card of ‘jatiyatabadi’ against their image of Hindi speaking North Indian party, which panned out well as expected, and many youth organisations which were initially against CAA decided to be saffron's political ally to protect their identity and for securing the status of Schedule Tribes.
This election season was a series of firsts for the state. For the first time in the history of Assamese elections, a jailed activist Akhil Gogoi won his seat from Sibsagar; this victory was also the only one for the regional parties Raijor Dal (RD) and Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJD) that forged for the first time in the state to stand against the contentious issue of CAA-NRC. This year saw the losing hold of Congress in Upper Assam, where they used to otherwise emerge strong, they ended up winning only five constituencies, out of which in Nazira - a stronghold of Congress- it won just by a margin of a thousand votes. Adding on to this, the reason for their defeat in the state is also being speculated to be the dislodging of their votes by RD and AJD, as the Congress leader Apurba Bhattacharya said.
Catechize of CM Candidature
Himanta Biswa Sarma at 2021 Assam Assembly election rally
Image Credits: @eastmojo.com
Instead of revealing the name of the to-be-CM, BJP in Assam tried to keep it under the sheets by hailing the politics of collective responsibility. Inside buzz sourced that this term could be a year of change in leadership as the masthead was led by Himanta Biswa Sarma mostly, outshining Sarbananda Sonowal. Leading from the front, Mr Sarma is known for fulfilling his promises. Since his Congress days, he has acted as the key strategist of elections and this time too, he was successful in handling the COVID-19 pandemic. Being the Health Minister of the state, he led campaigns and rallies, and a massive drive against corruption, along with many more incidents. Still, no one was sure about who would be at the other side of the Chief Minister table. Hunches were made based on the publicity of Biswa on the social media platforms, songs featuring his name instead of Mr Sonowal, and Himanta’s brigade (or Dada Brigade) getting more tickets. On the day of victory, Himanta was tremendously credited and quoted the win as the 'HimanTsunami'.
A journalist, Atanu Bhuyan, went on to tweet that, “The success-credit of BJP in Assam Assembly Polls doesn’t go to the Central leadership, but Himanta Biswa alone. Whatever he planned is exactly reflecting in the results. What the BJP couldn’t do in West Bengal, they did it in Assam.”
On the day of writing this article, after many deliberations, Himanta Kumar Biswa is the new chief minister of Assam, which is being considered as the fruit of his good work over the years.
'Right' Way Ahead
With the pandemic at hand, the new set of ministers are expected to contain it on a priority basis. Development and growth of the state as promised including infrastructure, roads, railway, universities etc, and upliftment of women will be looked forward to. On CAA, prudent and mindful steps will have to be taken, and the welfare of genuine refugees should be taken care of. Dr Sarma after taking the oath quoted, “Taking Assam to greater heights of prosperity and making it as among the leading states, pursuing the ideals and values of Adarniya Pradhan Mantri Sri Narendra Modi, is our pledge.”