The people of Assam have given a resounding mandate for change in a bitterly contested vote. By winning its first assembly election in a Northeast state, the BJP has created history. Creditably drawing its lessons from the Bihar debacle, the saffron party has extended its tiol footprint into this part of the country to unseat the Congress. The task was accomplished with a rainbow coalition, through which the BJP ensured that the anti-Congress votes did not split this time around. The rrow victory margins in several constituencies only go to show that the BJP was right in playing within its limitations — by stitching up an alliance with the AGP, the BPF and Tiwa and Rabha groups. Instead of pitting rendra Modi against Tarun Gogoi as was done against Nitish Kumar in Bihar, the BJP this time sensibly plumped for a tribal leader like Sarbanda Sonowal to be the face of its campaign. This gave a chance to voters to compare and decide upon the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate vis-a-vis Tarun Gogoi. Determined to ride the anti-incumbency wave after three successive Congress terms, the BJP maged to keep its focus on the twin issues of governce and development to reap handsome electoral dividends. As for the AGP, it profited from the alliance to stay relevant after years of reverses, and thereby keep the flame of regiol politics flickering for the time being. Hagrama Mohilary has cemented his position with the latest victory; after a hattrick win in the Bodoland Territorial Council elections last year with his back to the wall, the BPF supremo displayed political acumen by throwing in his lot wholeheartedly with the saffron alliance. In contrast, AIUDF chief Badaruddin Ajmal stands diminished with his loss at South Salmara and his party’s tally coming down from the 18 seats it had bagged in 2011. In his anxiety to play kingmaker and prime mover of a Third Front, Ajmal failed to see that the Congress and AIUDF votebanks were cutting into each other in several constituencies this time.
Even Tarun Gogoi’s worst detractors will admit he fought a valiant battle to beat back the saffron surge. But he was left alone to hold the fort as other Congress stalwarts, sensing the groundswell of public disaffection, rushed back to their constituencies to fight rearguard battles. That only Gogoi himself with Ajanta Neog, Rakibul Hussain and zrul Islam in his ministry were able to survive the mayhem, shows how badly the Congress underestimated the extent of the RSS-BJP inroads into Assam. The growing saffron strength in the State has been apparent since the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in which the BJP delivered its best ever performance by capturing 7 seats, with its vote share rising threefold from around 12 percent (in 2011) to 36.9 percent. More significantly, the BJP obtained a majority in terms of leads in 69 assembly seats within the Lok Sabha seats in its kitty. The Congress saw its Lok Sabha tally from Assam come down to 3 and vote share to 30 percent. In particular, the Congress losses in Jorhat and Dibrugarh Lok Sabha seats having sizeable tea garden voters underlined the erosion in its traditiol votebanks. This was followed by the civic polls in February last year, dubbed by the BJP leadership as the ‘semi-fils to 2016’ — in which the party captured more than 20 town committees and 23 municipal boards, garnering 48.23 percent of the vote. It is hardly a surprise that in the assembly elections of 2016, the BJP is on its way to bag 60 seats on its own with nearly 30 percent vote share, the saffron alliance as a whole grabbing 86 seats. Most exit polls saw this coming, with voters, particularly women and youth, clearly articulating their thirst for change.
An undisputed leader in his first two terms, Tarun Gogoi lost much of his aura in the 3 years of dissidence that paralyzed his administration from 2011 onwards. There was no way he could recover lost ground in the last two years of his third term, particularly after reconstituting his ministry in a blatant exercise in political expediency. When people saw his ministry filled with the likes of Gautam Roy, zrul Islam and other non-performers, they lost all hope of their State getting anywhere in the long road to development. So when the Congress opted for a negative election campaign this time by ridiculing the Modi government’s performance in its 15 months — it should have known the effort will boomerang if voters ask what the Congress regimes delivered in 15 long years! While Tarun Gogoi failed to build a credible second rung of leadership in the State Congress, the party high command itself will have much to introspect upon in the coming days. In this round of assembly elections, the Congress has lost Assam and Kerala; it has failed to attract voters in Tamil du by riding piggyback on the DMK, as well as in West Bengal by allying with the Left Front. Regiol satraps Jayalalitha and Mamata Banerjee have become more powerful with renewed mandates. The NDA leadership will doubtless woo them to secure their support in the Rajya Sabha. The onus will now be on the BJP alliance government in Assam to secure favorable terms from the Centre to make good its election promises.