If it was a failure of Opposition consolidation that helped Mamata score a resounding victory, it was the consolidation of the Hindu vote bank and a split in the Muslim vote that helped a decisive and historic BJP win in Assam.
For the first time, Assamese, Bengali and tribal Hindus voted for the BJP, partly because their specific interests had been addressed in the saffron campaign and partly because they were upset by the repeated assertion of AIUDF chief Badruddin Ajmal that he would be ‘kingmaker’. The BJP’s success is stitching alliances with Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) which had ruled Assam for two terms (1985-1990 and 1996-2001) and Bodoland Peoples Front (which controls the autonomous council for Bodo tribes) helped the anti-Congress consolidation, even as the Congress failed to work out a poll alliance with the Badruddin Ajmal-led AIUDF.
Assamese caste Hindus, over the years, have come to reckon the BJP as the possible guardian of their identity that they see threatened by influx from across the borders. No longer do they repose faith in ‘amar lora’ (our boys, as the AASU or AGP were referred to in the 1980s) for that. And when the BJP named one of their ‘lora’, Sarbananda Sonowal, to lead the charge, the die was cast. And since Sonowal is a tribal, a Sonowal Kachari, the tribals, long alienated by upper caste domination of Assamese identity politics, came back to support the BJP in a big way.
“In some ways, projecting a tribal as Chief Minister may help repair the ruptured Asomiya nationality formation process, manifest in multiple demands for tribal homelands,” says Uddipana Goswami, author of a book on politics of ethnicity in Assam.
Bengali Hindus had much to cheer over the Modi government’s decision to accept Hindu refugees from Bangladesh and Pakistan as legitimate claimant of Indian citizenship. The Bengali dominated Barak valley is also cheered by the speed with which the rail broad gauge work to Silchar has been completed by the Modi government after hanging in heavens for 15 years during the Congress regime.
The only hope for the Congress against the Hindutva steamroller (efficiently unleashed by the likes of Ram Madhav) was a possible consolidation of the Muslim vote in its fold. That did not quite happen. Badruddin Ajmal himself lost his seat to Congress veteran Wajed Ali, but he sliced up the 36 per cent Muslim vote sufficiently down the middle to deny the Congress a huge share of the ‘Ali’ vote.
“The AIUDF is a spoiler,” fumed Assam Congress president Anjan Dutta.
For the first time since the concept of a ‘concerted Hindu vote bank’ was conceived by former governor Lt. Gen. S. K. Sinha (he brought about the first AGP-BJP alliance in 2001) has the intended arithmetic translated into ground reality.
The huge crop of young voters in Assam, which psephologist Sanjay Kumar sees emerging as a vote bank, also identified strongly with a young leader like Sonowal and not with the aging Tarun Gogoi, harping too much on his hat-trick.
By Subir Bhowmick