This article has been written exclusively for Niticentral.
Assam goes to polls next year in 2016. The state has 126 assembly constituencies, 108 in general category and 18 reserved for SC /ST category. In the last assembly polls the turnout was very high at 75.9%. The Congress has been ruling the state for the past 14 years since 2001 with Tarun Gogoi as the Chief Minister. In 2011 elections, party bagged 78 seats with 39.4% vote share. BJP won 5 seats with 11.5% vote share
In 2014 Lok Sabha polls, BJP won 7 / 14 seats with 36.9% vote share. BJP finished 2nd in 5 seats & 3rd in 1 seat. BJP lead in 69 assembly constituencies out of 126, enough to get a plain simple majority. Congress was reduced to 3 seats with 29.9% vote share. Congress finished 2nd in 8 seats and 3rd in 3 seats.
In municipal elections held in 2015, BJP won more than half (38 / 74) of town committees and municipal boards continuing with its winning trend.
So we see BJP has made significant inroads in Assam and is expected to wrest power from Congress in next year polls. Huge anti-incumbency against 15 year rule of Tarun Gogoi likely to cost Congress dearly. As it happens with such long running governments, public aspire for change as evident in Maharashtra (15 year Cong-NCP rule) and Haryana (10 year Congress rule) state polls last year.
Anticipating BJP sweep in next year polls, Congress leaders are jumping off their sinking ship and joining BJP to revive their political careers. This trend was visible before Lok Sabha polls when some prominent leaders including CWC member Chaudhary Birendra Singh joined BJP.
Last week former cabinet minister and heavyweight leader in state politics of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma joined BJP with his followers. He claims the support of another dozen MLAs who are expected to switch sides before assembly polls.
Himanta has been leading the crusade against Gogoi for quite some time now and as recently as July this year claimed support of 52 / 78 MLAs and pressurized Congress high command to make him the Chief Minister. His demand was out rightly rejected. This seems to be the reason for his shift plus of course the dwindling fortunes of the party.
This is a shot in the arm for BJP, Himanta along with his supporters is expected to make a dent in Congress vote bank in at least a dozen seats. In national politics, where each state polls are very important, also for majority in Rajya Sabha, winning Assam is very important in BJP scheme of things.
Members of any political party are like employees of any organization. They take calls on future of the party, their individual prospects and then decide whether to switch parties or not. It’s very natural. Himanta clearly sees no future for Congress in Assam for another 5 years. Central leadership constantly ignoring him for post of CM may have also prompted this decision.
While it is a good sign, (people from competition joining is a sign that party’s prospects are bright) BJP also needs to be wary of people who join the party just for the sake of better prospects. Any neglect of local cadre would not help the party in the long run. Plus Himanta also nurses CM ambitions which needs to be finely balanced by Amit Shah.
There are four parties in Assam apart from Congress with decent presence. All of them have pockets of influence – BJP (Hindu votes across ethnic groups), AIUDF (minority influence), BOPF (Bodoland) and AGP (traditional vote bank because party formed govt. twice in the past). All the four parties will be targeting the anti-Congress vote. This could lead to a split of votes.
Prodyut Bora, former national executive committee member of BJP, who quit the party has also floated a new party called Liberal Democratic Party. This could also garner some vote share in urban areas and appeal especially the youth.
AGP and / or BOPF may forge an alliance with BJP before polls. AIUDF could cut into the minority vote bank of Congress or may even ally with the Congress in the end before the polls.
Will the BJP succeed in forming government in a north eastern state for the first time? Will Himanta’s entry lead to split within the local Congress unit? These are some questions which will be answered in the next few months….