In the 65 years since the first elections in India, there have been 16 general elections and a few hundreds of state battles. Many nations change governments by coups or revolutions; but only the people choose governments in India. In 1985, they brought in a group of students to govern Assam, the first time ever when a students union wrested state power but then the same ‘youth icons’ were shown the door after two terms. The electorate can be unforgiving and these ‘students’ were never again given a chance.
Is it possible to project the choice of people based on their previous verdicts? Is it possible to gauge the trend of voting in various parts of the State? Is it possible to read the impact of the profile of candidates and determine the winners? Two decades ago when the word psephology entered our lexicon thanks to my previous employer, Dr Prannoy Roy, we believed that there are patterns to be found in the voting figures. But the same guru of election projections got it wrong on several occasions including the most recent Bihar elections. It is easy to predict a close contest and hedge towards the middle. It needs courage to predict a landslide (which Prannoy did once). How we all got it wrong after the NDA’s first term and how we couldn’t predict the Delhi BJP washout is worth pondering over. In Assam, however, some trends and patterns have been visible in the last three elections since 2001; the fact that AGP had no vote base and BJP just couldn’t convert the issues into votes is clear enough. That allowed the Congress to continue ruling but something has changed in 2016. Badruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF is now no longer a peripheral force but could well be the deciding factor.
What makes prediction in India so difficult? The presence of several significant regional parties and a diverse electorate. In Assam with most ethnic groups asserting sub national aspirations, violently or otherwise, makes it even more difficult to project.
Assam 2016 looks like a bit of a blur. If any party stands to gain from the overlaps, it will be the Congress. BJP is struggling as always. Let us not forget how even Guwahati residents rejected their favourite Bhupen Hazarika contesting on a BJP ticket. Polarisation or not, BJP somehow has never got its plot right in Assam. Given the two previous defeats in Delhi and Bihar, they are hoping to regain some dignity. Mired in controversies from beef to intolerance and failing to impact any major changes in social and economic sectors, it will again fall back on promises of good governance and jobs. The Congress (essentially just Tarun Gogoi) has decided to dig out the ‘secret killing’ canon to fire from but that is only to target the AGP which has virtually nothing to lose. They would be delighted with even one seat. The Congress will do well to just shut up and see how it pans out. AIUDF is worth studying and the Mahagathbandhan they are planning with RJD and JD(U) may well be the X-factor. Despite Ram Madhav’s long visits over the last few months, the Kashmir formula hasn’t yet worked in Assam with the AIUDF. Gogoi had once vowed that he could win without Muslim votes so he if he walks the talk then a Congress –AIUDF merger is not on the cards either.
Meanwhile the ubiquitous ‘illegal migrant’ is lurking its head as the fall guy for the inevitable.
Kishalay Bhattacharjee is a senior journalist and author based in Delhi. His most recent book is Blood On My Hands: Confessions of Staged Encounters