The BJP-led ruling NDA alliance in Assam, which was exuding confidence of a cakewalk in the state assembly elections, is now looking at a neck and neck contest with the Congress-AIUDF-led alliance, in the third and final phase of the polls on Tuesday (April 6).
The BJP was banking on a good performance in Upper Assam in the first phase of the elections, sensing that it could lose seats in the subsequent two phases as the Congress-AIUDF alliance would mean there is no division of the religious minority votes. But, according to the estimate by the state BJP itself, the party could lose several seats in Upper Assam.
“The BJP performed much poorly than expected in the first phase, and if the party-led alliance loses more than 10 seats it is holding at the moment, it will be difficult to make up the losses in the subsequent phases,” said a senior leader of Assam BJP who wished to be unnamed.
According to reports, several senior BJP leaders who were sidelined and incumbent MLAs who didn’t get tickets for the polls, offered little help to the party candidates.
Poll campaign for the third phase of the elections in 40 constituencies, mostly in minority-dominated areas of Lower Assam, saw a galaxy of star campaigners, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, and BJP national president JP Nadda, who repeatedly raked up the issue of the Congress and AIUDF alliance, and attacked AIUDF chief and Lok Sabha MP Badruddin Ajmal over ‘Assamese identity’. Shah in an election rally in Margherita had lambasted the Congress for entering into an alliance with parties who are “out to divide the country,” a dig at the AIUDF. Senior BJP leader and Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma also raked up the Congress-AIUDF alliance in a bid to polarise voters.
“The Congress started their campaign with a visit to Batadrava (Srimanta Sankardeva’s birth place) but ended it with Ajmal,” Sarma said in his election campaign.
The AIUDF is contesting in 13 out of the 40 seats in the third phase.
The saffron party which was confident of a sweep till months back and had captioned the slogan “BJP+ will cross 100+”, meaning the BJP-led alliance will win over 100-plus seats in the assembly, suffered a major jolt due to the coming together of opposition parties — Congress, AIUDF, CPI(M), CPI, CPI(ML), Anchalik Gana Morcha (AGM), RJD, Adivasi National Party (ANP) and the Jimochayan (Deori) Peoples Party (JPP), for the formation of the Mahajut, or grand alliance. The alliance was further boosted with the regional party BPF joining it.
The BJP also faced problems in ticket distribution and allocation of seats to its alliance partners. Ahead of the election, the party expelled 15 members, including former deputy speaker Dilip Kumar Paul, for a period of six years for going against the party’s decision and contesting the polls as independents.
Dilip Paul, who is contesting as an independent from Silchar, had earlier levelled major allegation of syndicates in the government, and as an independent candidate is expected to cause an upset in the constituency.
The BJP is also in the backfoot in areas where there is a sizeable population of the Bodo community, as BPF president Hagrama Mohilary has been personally campaigning in these constituencies and appealing to voters to elect the grand alliance to power.
Grand alliance strategists, however, said that the BJP’s plan of action has not succeeded.
A confident grand alliance, ahead of the final phase, through a media statement said, “Neither do we believe in divide and rule nor do we practice favouritism like the current BJP government. Our five guarantees will be meant for everyone equally irrespective of region, religion, caste or any other parameter that is meant to divide Assam.”
“There is a storm in favour of the Grand Alliance and anyone coming on its way will be decimated,” said Munin Mahanta of the CPI, a partner of the grand alliance.
BJP’s hope of religious polarisation dashed
The BJP was banking heavily on massive religious polarisation to win the crucial first phase of the election and even tried to rake up the issue of Congress-AIUDF alliance ahead of the election, but in vain.
“In Upper Assam, which was the hotbed of the anti-CAA agitation, the Congress maintained a distance with the AIUDF and no AIUDF leaders campaigned for the Congress. There were no posters of any AIUDF leaders or flags in any of the Congress booth in upper Assam,” said Sudipta Nayan Goswami, a journalist and social activist based at Jorhat.
The Nawboisa constituency in the north bank of Upper Assam, which was held by the AIUDF was also given to the Congress.
Wary of possible backlash if the party campaigned on the issue of the CAA, BJP in its manifesto for Assam didn’t mention about implementation of the act, while also avoiding any mention of it in the poll campaigns.
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In the second phase of the election, a visibly desperate BJP has also been accused of manipulating the election by the opposition Congress. This was after a grand alliance candidate from Tamulpur (of the BPF), in a dramatic turn of events joined the BJP on April 1, and announced his retirement from the election.
The Congress sought suspension of voting in that constituency, and even moved the Supreme Court on the same. However the Supreme Court decline to entertain the plea on Monday.
In another controversy, the Election Commission ordered repolling in a polling station in the Ratabari Assembly constituency after it emerged that officials on election duty had breached protocol by transporting EVMs in a vehicle belonging to the BJP candidate.
After a complaint was lodged on the issue, the EC conducted an inquiry and acknowledged a “violation of transport protocol,”, and a show-cause notice was issued to the presiding officer and three polling officials were suspended.