With the Assam State Election Commission announcing the two-phase elections to the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) on December 7 and 10, poll fever in Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR) is poised for a crescendo in the first winter month. In the first phase, elections will be held in Baksa and Udalguri districts while the other two districts in BTR -Kokrajhar and Chirang will go to poll in the second phase. The Commission deferred the BTC polls, earlier scheduled on April 4, due to COVID-19 pandemic. The Council is currently under Governor's Rule which will continue till the BTC polls are over. Counting of votes will be taken up on December 12. Stakes of the Bodoland People's Front (BPF) -- a constituent of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led coalition government in Assam -- are high in this poll. The BPF ruled the BTC for three consecutive terms and is looking for the fourth term; but the odds are stacked against it this time. Its own ally, the BJP has thrown its hat into the ring and has made "corruption" and "misrule" of BPF the major poll planks. Several senior BPF leaders have deserted the party ahead of the BTC polls leaving it more weakened and making the poll battle tougher than it expected. Politics makes strange bedfellows. Despite bitter campaign against each other in BTC polls, the BPF and the BJP continue to be partners of the ruling coalition at Dispur. The stakes of the All Bodo Students' Union-backed United People Party, Liberal (UPPL) has also gone up in this election. The UPPL is pinning its hopes on the third Bodo Accord with the ABSU being one of the signatories. The party hopes the new Bodo Accord has created new aspirations among the Bodos and will woo them away from the influence of the BPF. Former ABSU president Pramode Boro and a signatory of the new accord leading the UPPL in the poll battle has helped the party step up its campaign against BPF chief Hagrama Mohilary. The polls will decide the political fate of Mohilary who has also been the BTC chief for three consecutive terms since inception of the tribal autonomous council under the amended provisions of the Sixth Schedule in 2003. Mohilary also headed the interim council body. The UPPL campaign issues have struck chord with BJP's poll planks against BPF which is seen as an indication of likely post-poll alliance between the two parties in the event of a fractured mandate.
The Assembly polls are less than four months away from the BTC polls. The BTR accounts for 12 Assembly constituencies. The BPF won all these 12 seats in 2016 assembly polls as a constituent of the BJP led alliance. The BJP is apprehensive of these assembly seats going to the kitty of opposition with anti-incumbency adversely affecting poll prospects of the BPF. The major coalition partner, therefore, has raised its pitch against BPF and Mohilary to present itself as the alternative to the BPF. The BJP campaign is led from the front by the senior party leader Health & Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. The Opposition Congress and the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) have also jumped in the campaign but the confusion over the electoral alliance between the two parties continue persist. The next few days are likely to witness a flurry of activities of the political parties on poll alliance and seat sharing while their spin doctors have already started shaping the perception war in BTR. Another major stakeholder in the BTC polls is Kokrajhar Member of Parliament-led Gana Suraksha Party which is making all efforts to raise its stakes in the council body and pining its hopes on anti-incumbency against the BPF. The BTC polls will be the first major poll in Assam in the pandemic situation. The State Election Commission must draw lessons from Bihar polls for making adequate arrangements for making the polling station safe against spread of COVID-19 infections. With the Model Code of Conduct coming into force, the Commission should make the political parties adhere to COVID-19 restrictions and ensuring that electors are not put to risk by the parties and candidates by organizing poll rallies without following the safe distancing norms. The SEC must ensure that strict adherence by the star campaigners of the political parties, candidates of the expenditure guidelines issued by it. The BTR has ethnic and demographic fault lines and the Commission must ensure that parties do not indulge in any campaign that can potentially expose such fault lines and open wounds of bitter conflicts of the past. Arranging adequate security measures will be critical to ensuring the electors that BTC elections will be free and fair and evert single vote counts for good governance in BTR. This BTC polls have the highest stakes than ever.