Advantage BJP, Congress to improve position
The speculation about elections has now moved from the battlefield of rallies and meetings into drawing rooms after the third phase of voting got over in Assam on 23rd April, 2019. Social media is of course agog with possible numbers of seats for BJP, Congress, AIUDF etc and the numbers vary depending on the allegiance of the creator of the post. Even media personnel have expressed their opinions with a few even sticking their necks out by claiming that BJP would get 10 out of the 10 seats it contested in Assam. Sad reflection in all these confabulations is the fact that Asom Gana Parishad, once the heartthrob of Assamese people, has more or less been written off in these elections despite having fought the elections in alliance with BJP.
These elections in Assam will be noted for the contrasting style adopted by the two primary protagonists, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Indian National Congress (INC), in their election campaigns. On one hand, we have seen an aggressive and entertainment filled BJP campaign led by the energetic, Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma duly complimented by the rallies addressed by none other than the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and BJP National President, Amit Shah. In particular, the road shows of Dr Sarma have been noted for the dancing shoes he put on in practically every election rally addressed by him post 2nd April, 2019.
In contrast, the Congress campaigning has been more localised, barring a couple of rallies addressed by INC president Rahul Gandhi and General Secretary in charge of Eastern UP, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. The take away from these rallies of the two primary parties has been that while INC desperately tried to raise the issues of development and joblessness plaguing the economy, BJP has been able to deflect the issues concerning the health of the economy and steer the attention away towards religious polarisation. The bogey of illegal infiltration from erstwhile East Pakistan refuses to go away election after election in Assam and this time too there was no exception. However, BJP was on the backfoot on the issue of Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2016 and this was amply demonstrated when the PM didn’t mention CAB in any of his rallies in the Brahmaputra Valley but did so in the one addressed by him in the Barak Valley whereas Congress tried to hammer in the fact that they are the ones who didn’t allow CAB to pass in Rajya Sabha and are in fact the true protectors of “Axomiya” identity – in sharp contrast to the catchy slogan of BJP alliance in 2016 Assembly elections in Assam – Jati, Mati aru Bheti. The theme song of BJP, “Akou Ebar Modi Sarkar” became very popular and in rallies after rallies BJP supporters were seen dancing away to the catchy tune. Of course, now the fortunes of the candidates are locked in EVMs stored away at various locations across Assam and on 23rd May, Assam would declare whether the people have reposed faith in the incumbent BJP establishment or are yearning for change.
G Plus teams have been keeping tab on the election related developments and since the day elections were announced, have done a number of articles on the ground situation. Post the final phase in Assam, G Plus would like to look at the likely outcome from Assam through a detailed analysis. G Plus would like to reiterate that this is not an exit poll and is basing its assumption on a number of factors influencing the voters in the constituencies.
Phase 1 analysis: LS seats Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur, Jorhat, Kaliabor and Tezpur
G Plus had done a detailed analysis just prior to the first phase of voting regarding the five seats of Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur, Jorhat, Kaliabor and Tezpur and had given advantage to BJP in the three seats of Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur and Tezpur. Our stand has not changed from that position and we would like to reiterate that BJP continues to be in pole position in these three seats. Of these three, in Dibrugarh and Lakhimpur, BJP winning is near certainty and though in Tezpur, the Congress candidate did put up a fight, it’s advantage BJP here too. Amongst the other two seats of Kaliabor and Jorhat, INC is near certain to win Kaliabor while Jorhat will witness a close contest, as we had anticipated in our article dated April 6, 2019. After polling and based on ground reports, INC has an advantage in Jorhat and we foresee the Congress candidate having the last laugh here.
Phase 2 analysis: LS seats Nagaon, Mangaldoi, Autonomous Districts, Silchar and Karimganj
In the second phase, five constituencies went to the polls – Nagaon, Mangaldoi, Autonomous Districts (Diphu), Silchar and Karimganj. Interesting to note here is that barring Diphu, in the rest four constituencies, religious minorities form a large chunk of voters and many a time if the minority votes are not divided, they have been the decisive factor between the winning and the losing candidate. It is also important to note that all these constituencies barring Diphu (with lesser number of religious minority voters) have logged in high voter turnouts and it is believed that religious minority dominated areas have had higher voter turnouts than other areas. And given the fact that AIUDF has not contested the seats of Silchar, Nagaon and Mangaldoi, the contest has turned out to be much closer to the discomfort of BJP.
In Nagaon, the Congress candidate has been able to shake off the outsider tag and despite the high voltage campaigning by the BJP election machinery, Pradyut Bordoloi is expected to wrest this seat from BJP. In 2014, with tailwind provided by the high octane Modi wave, Rajen Gohain of BJP won the seat by a margin of 1.45 lakh votes by securing 4.95 lakh votes. The Congress candidate, Jon Jonali Borua secured 3.5 lakh votes and Aditya Langthasa of AIUDF had received 3.13 lakh votes. By simple arithmetic, in the absence of an AIUDF candidate in 2019, the total votes opposed to BJP would be 6.63 lakhs as against BJP’s 4.95 lakh votes. However, elections are not fought on arithmetic though combined vote share is an important factor. For BJP to retain this seat, the key would be to polarise the voters on religious lines and ensuring majority of Hindu voters voting for BJP. However, important to note here is that, between 2014 Lok Sabha elections and 2016 Assembly elections under Nagaon parliament seat (having 9 assembly segments) BJP’s vote share didn’t differ at all and both these elections were fought in the backdrop of a Modi wave. So realistically speaking en masse polarisation on religious line in Nagaon is not expected and ground reports suggest the high voter turnout may in fact be advantageous to Congress.
Karimganj would see a close triangular fight between BJP, AIUDF and Congress. With about 35% voters belonging to the religious minority community and being a reserved seat, with no possibility of putting up dummy candidates to divide this block of voters, Karimganj has always been an enigma to pollsters. All three parties are strong here and anyone could be smiling at the end of the day on 23rd May.
Mangaldoi, on the other hand, is a study in contrast. BJP has won from this seat twice in a row since 2009 though the margin of win in 2014 – at the height of Modi wave - was too close for comfort to BJP. This time Congress has fielded a heavyweight candidate in Bhubaneswar Kalita, who championed the cause of anti CAB protesters and is taking on a newcomer from BJP, Dilip Saikia, an organisational man. Voting percentage here too is consistent with the notion that minority dominated areas have voted in high numbers compared to other areas and this is expected to benefit Congress. However, there are many factors at play here and with Assamese voters forming the largest chunk in this constituency, though it will be a close fight, the advantage remains with BJP.
Sushmita Dev, the INC candidate in Silchar, had all the ingredients to win this seat easily for the second time in a row and the reasons were: Absence of an AIUDF candidate (with around 34% voters belonging to the religious minority community) and being the daughter of Santosh Mohan Dev, undoubtedly one of the tallest political leaders from Barak Valley. In comes the CAB and Congress’s open opposition to its passage in parliament and her campaign got derailed even before it started. BJP’s pledge to pass the CAB in next parliament was the much needed oxygen, the BJP candidate, Dr Rajdweep Roy needed and his campaign caught up with Sushmita’s. No wonder, both Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra campaigned for Sushmita through two separate rallies to give a boost to her chances. Narendra Modi too addressed a rally here and with his reiteration of passing the CAB, BJP fancies its chances of wresting this seat from INC this time. However all is not lost for Sushmita and if polarisation doesn’t take place on religious fault lines, it is advantage INC here but it is too close a contest to call out anyone’s name here.
In comparison, amongst the 14 seats going to the polls in Assam, Diphu probably is the only one where one political party can celebrate even before 23rd May and this happens to be BJP. The party’s stranglehold over the ST communities is complete and though INC secured support from the influential ASDC (Autonomous State Demand Committee), BJP would wrest this seat from INC.
Phase 3 analysis: LS seats Guwahati, Kokrajhar, Barpeta and Dhubri
In the third phase, the four seats of Guwahati, Kokrajhar, Barpeta and Dhubri went to the polls on 23rd April and BJP is in fray only in the Guwahati seat. A prestigious seat by all reckoning, this seat has been held by BJP for two terms in a row and there is no reason why this seat shouldn’t remain in the kitty of BJP, albeit with the indirect support of the independent candidate who heads the private pressure group formed to oppose illegal migration from Bangladesh. The largest of the 14 constituencies with over 21 lakh voters, Guwahati has always however sprang surprises in the past and even a person like Dr Bhupen Hazarika had lost from this seat. There have been reports of non-cooperation from not only alliance partners to the BJP candidate but also other BJP legislators in this constituency but being an urban seat and with BJP having its sway over a large swath of the constituency, Queen Ojha of BJP would pip Bobeeta Sharma of INC to the post only because Upamanyu Hazarika, an independent candidate and a crusader for the anti CAB protesters would eat away a major chunk of anti CAB votes, which otherwise were expected to be in the kitty of INC.
Barpeta like Karimganj is having a triangular fight with INC, AGP and AIUDF candidates being in the fray. Abdul Khaleque of INC is considered to be the liberal face of Muslim community, a good orator and an active legislator in Assam assembly. In contrast, Kumar Deepak Das of AGP lacks the organisational structure AGP once had and it will be an uphill task for him to gain the trust of the electorates in Barpeta. AIUDF has a strong presence in Barpeta but a relatively weak candidate in place of Sirajuddin Ajmal, the incumbent MP would have an impact on the voting pattern. Abdul Khaleque is expected to garner a fair chunk of the Assamese votes too and hence INC is at an advantageous position in Barpeta.
In Dhubri, the religious minority dominated constituency, Badaruddin Ajmal has been elected as its MP twice in a row and has a strong follower base. The primary fight in this constituency will be between AIUDF and INC candidate, Abu Taher Bepari. The third candidate in the fray, Javed Islam of AGP, though an ex-legislator himself, is up against two strong candidates and with very poor organisational structure is virtually out of the contest. The Congress candidate though is putting up a spirited fight against Ajmal, factionalism within the party and resultant non-cooperation from a powerful local leader would ensure that Ajmal would smile on 23rd May.
We come to the last of the 14 constituencies, Kokrajhar and the only constituency where there is a four-cornered contest with an independent and incumbent MP, Hira Sarania leading from the front. Though plagued with anti incumbency, Sarania continues to be popular with the non-Bodo segments in this constituency and with a major chunk of the two lakh strong Koch Rajbongshi voters backing him to the hilt, Sarania is the favourite to retain this seat. However, he is being given a very strong fight by UG Brahma of UPPL and unless Brahma garners a larger chunk of the religious minority voters, he will fall behind in the race to Delhi. Promila Rani Brahma, a current minister in the Sarbananda Sonowal-led state cabinet started the race from far behind and initial reports suggest that though she has been backed strongly by the Hindu Bengali voters, a split in the Bodo voter base would hurt her chances in these elections. So it is advantage Hira Sarania once again in Kokrajhar though UG Brahma of UPPL too stands a very good chance if minority voters strongly back his candidature. Congress candidate Sabda Ram Rabha will be a distant fourth here but he would be a spoilsport for Hira Sarania if he can garner near about a lakh votes which would come out of Hira Sarania’s kitty.
At the end, as stated earlier, it is advantage BJP once again in Assam in 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Following is the likely scenario:
Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur, Tezpur, Guwahati and Diphu
Jorhat, Koliabor, Nagaon and Barpeta
Karimganj, Kokrajhar (Independent/UPPL)