DATELINE Guwahati /Wasbir Hussain
Sarbanda Sonowal, the new state president of the BJP, has struck the right chord when he referred to Assam as the land of Srimanta Sankardev and Azaan Fakir, the two best symbols of an inclusive and cohesive Assamese society that comprise of diverse people and cultures. He didn’t forget to me the Sufi saint whose abode near Sivasagar is a symbol of unity and commul harmony in Assam. Sonowal referred to the ‘indigenous Muslims’ when he talked of moving ahead with the state’s different communities and people belonging to various faiths. The new State BJP president was reiterating a rrative that is extremely familiar in Assam’s context, and, therefore, it was not news.
Well, the occasion was really important from the BJP’s point of view. Sonowal said it at the rally in Dibrugarh, in presence of the party’s tiol president Amit Shah, who had arrived in the district town on Friday, 27 November, to launch the party’s campaign for the 2016 State Assembly elections. It is clear, the BJP has filized a strategy not to try polarization of votes in Assam along distinct religious lines but make a sharp distinction between indigenous Assamese-speaking Muslims, who are politically ictive, and Bengali-speaking Muslims, who domite what is called ‘Muslim politics’ in the State. In fact, Sonowal said in a television programme that Assamese-speaking Muslims in the State have many genuine grievances which need to be addressed. This indicates the BJP hopes to get support from within the Assamese-speaking Muslim community in 2016 and was trying to reach out to them.
In fact, going by the characteristic of the Assamese society in general, voting on Hindu-Muslim lines is an exception, not the rule. But yes, in certain constituencies in Western, northern and central Assam, that abound in Char dwellers, political parties like the AIUDF have been getting votes for its candidates who are predomintly Muslims. The challenge for the BJP, which is still harping on its ‘Mission 84’ slogan, will be to put up candidates in these constituencies that number more than 30. The state BJP has a minority cell but one is yet to see well-known mes or easily recognisable mes in that cell who could pass off as the saffron party’s Muslim face in the State. This is something the party has to work on.
Another clear strategy the BJP has adopted for Assam is its bold statement that no Hindi-speaking leaders are going to lead the party in the State. ‘I am Sarbanda Sonowal and I am an indigenous (khilonjia) Assamese...Bijoya Chakravarty, Siddhartha Bhattacharya, Himanta Biswa Sharma, Ramen Deka...all of them are indigenous Assamese,’ Sonowal thundered. The party and its affiliates have already been embarrassed rather early in the campaign trail when some lesser-known leaders from outside made goof-ups like calling Assam’s iconic war hero Lachit Borphukan as ‘Lachit Baruah’ and so on. In fact, the rrative here is totally different compared to the caste, creed, religion rrative in northern, central and parts of eastern India. The BJP appears to have realized that early on.
After fifteen years in power at a stretch, the Congress has been hit by anti-incumbency. But the party may not be routed in 2016, and could make up for the loss by working out an alliance with potential king-maker Badruddin Ajmal and his AIUDF. Therefore, if the BJP has to wrest power in Assam it has to present a positive agenda to the people of Assam, talk of inclusive politics, put up good candidates, make no attempt at polarizing votes in the me of religion, stitch up a cohesive and united party unit in the state, use very limited leaders from outside Assam in the poll campaign, and generally allay apprehensions, if any, from the minds of the minorities. Old promises made by all political parties for the past three decades like freeing Assam of Bangladeshis etc won’t be reason enough for the electorate to bring in the BJP to power for the first time in the State. The party’s work plan and method of implanting those plans could actually turn the tables in its favour.