The BJP tiol president’s visit to Assam as part of his Northeast tour signifies that the saffron party is gearing up for a battle royal in the Assembly elections only a year away. Addressing a rally in Guwahati, Amit Shah sounded the bugle by calling upon the people to vote for the party and ‘rid Assam of Bangladeshis’. Taking a pot shot at the Congress ruling the State, Shah alleged that despite receiving Rs 140 crore from the Centre for the NRC update process, the Tarun Gogoi government ‘does not want an updated NRC fearing loss of votebank’. Sharpening his attack further, Shah referred to the CAG report to point out that the Tarun Gogoi government has failed to give utilisation certificates of Central funds amounting to nearly Rs 13,000 crores. Significantly the BJP tiol president reiterated his party’s line that the Hindu refugees who crossed over due to religious persecution in Bangladesh, will be given Indian citizenship if the BJP wrests control in Dispur. The BJP thus seems to have forged a two-pronged attack on the Congress in the coming months — to attract voters with twin promises of a ‘Bangladeshi-free’ as well as a ‘corruption-free’ Assam.
The miserable failure of the Tarun Gogoi government in bringing about all-round development of the State in its three consecutive terms will therefore give the BJP plenty of ammunition in the coming days. In the Lok Sabha elections last year, rendra Modi eloquently put forward his vision of a strong and developed India and reaped rich electoral dividends. The Modi wave spread to Assam as well, with the BJP doing unexpectedly well to bag seven seats from the State. Much enervated by a two-year long dissidence and presently merely warming its seat in Dispur in the fil year of reckoning, there is little margin now for the Tarun Gogoi government to show any ‘magic’ as the Chief Minister is wont to boast. But despite the Congress losing much of its sheen, it is unclear how strong the BJP’s gameplan is to break the Congress hold on different communities in the State. Merely attacking the Congress for being soft on corruption or on illegal Bangladeshis may not be enough. In the 55 years it has ruled the State, the Congress has perfected its strategy of keeping different communities divided and separately dependent upon it through an elaborate system of political patroge. The BJP may have succeeded in holding up a different ‘idea’ to win over voters here in 2014, but it may need an electoral formula as well in 2016.
A very important factor for the BJP’s electoral fortunes here may be its engagement with the Motok, Moran, Ahom and tea tribe communities. The Congress citadel in Upper Assam has owed much to its influence upon these communities over the years. The Union Tribal Affairs minister’s recent statement about the Centre mulling over granting scheduled tribe (ST) status to these four communities along with Koch-Rajbongshis and Chutiyas in 4-5 months is significant in this context. If the Union Cabinet gives the green sigl, the bill on ST status will have to be passed by Parliament. As these six communities account for nearly 60 per cent of the State population, is the BJP getting ready to play a trump card? This may bring about a seismic change if Assam becomes practically a tribal state, with nearly two-third of its 126 seats likely to get reserved in such a scerio. With the AIUDF going all out to consolidate the religious minority votebank, the stage may be set for inevitable polarisation of electoral politics in Assam. This may have far reaching implications on the fortunes of the Congress, and its traditiol way of doing politics in the State.