Assam Polls: Equations changing as wary BJP chalks out strategy against Opp's ‘grand alliance’



The political equations are changing, slowly but surely, ahead of the Assam Assembly elections and the adage of a “marriage of convenience,” albeit pre-elections, seems to be the one adhered to by the parties.

One significant development in the run-up to the state polls has been the formal declaration of the “Mahajoot” or the “grand alliance” last month between the Opposition parties, Congress, the Badruddin Ajmal-led All India United Democratic Party (AIUDF), three Left parties–Communist Party of India (CPI), CPI (M) and CPI (ML)–and a regional party, Anchalik Gana Morcha.

Assam Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) president Ripun Bora had even claimed that the “grand alliance” would “comfortably wrest power from the BJP and its allies as the people were not happy with the incumbent government over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and failure to deliver pre-poll promises.”

However, appeals by Congress to the newly floated regional parties like the Lurinjyoti Gogoi-led Assam Jatiya Parishad and Raijor Dal to join the grand alliance before the polls have gone in vain, with the regional parties hinting at ideological issues as the reason.

AGP leaders and members during the bike rally at Bokakhat.

Now, given the show of numbers in the Opposition camp, what has the ruling BJP done? Not that it has to be perturbed, but it has to be certain that the report card is even better than what it was in 2016.

As it is, the saffron party is pushing the accelerator even harder, raising the bar even higher this time by targeting 100-plus constituencies of the 126 seats in the Assam Assembly.

In 2016, the saffron party had won 60 seats while the alliance (BJP-Asom Gana Parishad-Bodoland People’s Front) bagged 86 seats for an absolute majority to form the government.

However, by contesting solo in the recently concluded Bodoland Territorial Council polls and tying up after the polls with the Pramod Boro-led United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL) and Gana Suraksha Party in the council, it made sure that the BPF, its ally in the state government, was sidelined.

The saffron party had even given enough hints that it would contest all the key 12 seats in Bodoland Territorial Region in the April state elections, without the support of BPF, which has been winning all of them since 2006.

Instead, BJP has said that it would tie-up with the UPPL while retaining its alliance with the Asom Gana Parishad, a statement which BJP state president Ranjeet Kumar Dass had recently made public.

Union home minister Amit Shah sounded the poll bugle in a rally in Kokrajhar last month.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah had openly stated during his recent visits to Assam that the alliance with AGP would continue and it would join hands with the UPPL for the state polls.

Meanwhile, AGP president Atul Bora maintains that though it is in alliance with the BJP, it would not dilute the regional character of the party as the alliance is for the interest of Assam.

Bora even refuted allegations made by the AASU-formed regional party - Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) that the AGP is “under the control of the saffron party” and that “it was losing its regional character.”

“We are not underneath anyone, we are with them (BJP). AGP will continue its alliance with BJP and form the government,” the AGP president told reporters a month back.

BJP insiders, on Tuesday, told TNT-The Northeast Today that the saffron party had already conducted two surveys across constituencies to assess the “winnability quotient” of the candidates that would be in the fray.

“Currently, the third survey is on, and the assessment is based on not just past record or constituency-wise vote share, but various other factors, including current rapport with the people, appeal, social connections and all-round ability. It appears that some sitting MLAs might not get tickets,” a party member, on the condition of anonymity, said.

Reportedly, around 15 to 20 sitting BJP MLAs might not get tickets for the constituencies from where they had won the last elections.

Assam minister and key BJP strategist Himanta Biswa Sarma.

Apparently, the BJP leadership is also taking the Opposition's ‘grand alliance’ into account and analysing the vote share the Mahajoot might get, with or without the new regional parties on board.

“On the pre-poll alliance with AGP, the party member said that it would remain for sure. In some constituencies, the electorates have a leaning towards the regional party (formed after the Assam Agitation) and the votes, which are almost certain to go to the AGP bank, cannot be ignored. As it is, the regional party is upping the ante in projecting itself as a strong regional party in many constituencies,” the BJP member said.

The issue of seat-sharing between the alliance partners will, however, be discussed later even as it appears that the AGP’s alliance with BJP will leave fewer seats for the regional party to contest from.

All said and done, new regional parties in the fray post the CAA will only divide votes and favour the BJP, a fact which Assam’s influential minister and BJP’s ‘key election strategist’ Himanta Biswa Sarma revealed.

“My advice to the new regional parties, though unsolicited, would be for them to unite with the Opposition alliance, or else they will be only referred to as the ‘B’ team of BJP. If AJP and Raijor Dal contest alone, BJP will stand to gain,” Sarma told reporters recently.

(Edited by Andre Kongri)


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