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A Mandate for Change?

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  16 April 2016 12:00 AM GMT

The unprecedented high turnout of voters in both phases of the just concluded Assembly elections has drawn the attention of all political observers. The rate of turnout for the second phase of the elections held on April 11 was over 85 per cent. This is way above the average turnout of 75.98 per cent for the Assembly elections of 2011. It is also a good bit higher than the earlier record of 78.92 per cent turnout established in the Assembly elections of 1996. Perhaps the more significant aspect of this year’s election was that even in Guwahati the average turnout for the four city constituencies was 83 per cent—a good deal higher than the Assembly elections of 2011. It may be recalled that in the Assembly elections of 2011, Jalukbari constituency had recorded a turnout of 77.47 per cent, Dispur 62.91 per cent, East Guwahati 56.44 per cent and West Guwahati 65.88 per cent. By comparison, the average turnout of 83 per cent this time was indeed remarkable.

Any unusually high voter turnout at elections is generally regarded as an indication of anti-incumbency voting. However, this could well be an overly simplistic alysis of electoral behaviour. While it is true that in many cases a high voter turnout has been the precursor of a change in government due to dissatisfaction with the existing one, in the case of Assam this may not indicate anti-incumbency voting alone. The high rate of voter turnout in upper Assam could well indicate a likely change in government. However, the voter turnout in the districts with a high percentage of migrants from Bangladesh like gaon, Darrang, Goalpara and Dhubri may not necessarily be an indicator of impending change. The voter turnout in gaon this time was 84.5 per cent. In Goalpara it was 90 per cent and in Dhubri 85 per cent. In such areas domited by migrants from Bangladesh, a high voter turnout could well be an indicator of a determition to ensure the victory of the existing ruling party so that their interests are better guarded than with power in the hands of other political parties. At the same time, one cannot ignore the sigls sent out by the record turnout of voters all over the State and the talk of a coalition government opposed to the Congress that could well bring about the change that everyone seems to desire. The fact that a large number of urban voters who had neglected to vote in the past exercised their franchise this time is a welcome indicator of the belated awareness of their duty to vote in order to save the State from being taken over by migrant voters whose migration has long been encouraged merely for their votes.

Most political observers are of the view that this time Assam is about to have a hung Assembly, with no political party securing a bare majority on its own. There are indications from the comments made by AIUDF chief Badruddin Ajmal that the Congress is unlikely to secure a majority on its own, and that a coalition of some kind may become inevitable. Whether the stated unwillingness of the Congress to join hands with the AIUDF remains unchanged in the face of electoral adversity, remains to be seen. On the other hand, much of the euphoria in the BJP stems from its confidence that the BJP-AGP-BPF alliance, with the help of the Tiwa and Rabha organizations, will succeed in forming the next government in Assam.

It is quite unlikely that the record turnout of voters in the State this time will have no bearing on the fil outcome. The Bangladeshi migrants who have got enlisted as voters, have voted in large numbers as they have always done. None of them usually fail to vote. So their high turnout this time as well is unlikely to make much of a difference. It is the belated awareness of indigenous voters that this may their last chance to save their State from a complete takeover by migrant voters that could usher in the change that everyone is looking forward to. Quite apart from the false claims of development during the 15-year rule of a Congress government, there is also the legitimate fear that another term of Congress rule could well mean handing over the State to Bangladeshi migrants on a platter and seriously jeopardizing the rights and future prospects of the children of the soil.

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