Elections 2019: BJP in the Driver’s Seat as on Date
GUWAHATI: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will start from the pole position in Assam for the 2019 General Elections expected to be held in April/May this year. With barely a couple of weeks left before the poll schedule is announced by the Election Commission of India, the Assam BJP has gone all the way out to woo the voters with a series of meetings addressed by none other than the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP national president Amit Shah and of course the state BJP leaders including the chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal and Himanta Biswa Sarma. Interestingly, the main challenger, the Indian National Congress, though comfortably placed in certain pockets of Assam, is riddled with infighting and is yet to gear up for the final fight. AGP on the other hand is yet to decide whether to fight the elections alone or in alliance with one of these two national parties, betraying a sense of nervousness within its rank and file. AIUDF too is in a similar situation and is trying very hard to forge an alliance with the INC with the sole purpose of holding onto its vote bank at any cost.
In this article, the G Plus team, after having spoken to a number of political leaders and analysts besides in-depth assessment of ground situation, will try to analyze the prospects of each of these parties in the 14 Lok Sabha constituencies in Assam. Of course, in some of the constituencies, the suitability of a candidate will be a factor but this aspect will be more important to INC, AGP and AIUDF rather than BJP, which has a well-oiled electioneering machine besides having created a substantial vote bank especially through the opposition to the CAB, 2016. Further, one of the most important factors in these elections would be the decision of AGP – whether to ally with BJP or INC. In case AGP decides to go it alone, which without a doubt will dim its own prospects of winning any LS seat from Assam, such a decision definitely will cut into votes of both BJP and INC in certain seats. Another important factor would be whether the Bengali-speaking Muslims will stick to AIUDF or not and if the recent happenings are any indication, they are likely to desert AIUDF en masse at least in these LS elections and are likely to help INC in at least 4 seats.
As far as the 4 LS seats of upper Assam are concerned, namely, Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur, Jorhat and Koliabor, it is even-stevens for both BJP and INC. In Dibrugarh and Lakhimpur, BJP is very comfortably placed to retain the seats, whereas in Koliabor and Jorhat, INC is the front runner. In Dibrugarh, the dominant tea tribe community will back BJP wholeheartedly, thereby making it impossible for INC to even give a fight. In Lakhimpur, the ST communities are also firmly in the BJP camp and unless INC puts up a strong candidate, the margin will only get wider in favour of BJP. In Jorhat, the dominant Ahom community seems to be back in the INC fold and with the CAB issue fuelling the “Khilonjiya” feelings of other communities as well, BJP is left with the tea tribe votes which constitute roughly 25% of eligible voters but not enough to defeat the INC. Koliabor has nearly equal number of Hindu and Muslim voters and a large portion of the Hindu voters belong to the Ahom community. Therefore, with the Muslims expected to vote en masse for Congress, even if a lower percentage of Hindus vote for INC, the sitting MP is expected to romp home this time as well. One important aspect, especially with respect to Jorhat seat, will be the presence of independent candidates, who are likely to eat into the INC vote share, thereby making this an interesting seat to watch out for particularly, the strategy to be adopted by BJP.
In middle Assam, BJP is way ahead of others in Nagaon and in the absence of any strong candidature from INC, BJP’s task has only been made easier. Similar is the case in Tezpur, where the dominant Nepali community decides who goes to Delhi from here and BJP is equally comfortably placed to win this seat once again. INC continues to struggle to find a suitable Nepali candidate for this seat and though the CAB issue will figure in the voting pattern particularly with respect to the caste Hindu Assamese voters, absence of a tie up with AGP will ensure that the seat remains with BJP. Mangaldoi will however witness a close fight between the two dominant national parties and selection of candidates will play a crucial role. The significant Muslim votes, expected to back INC, will make it interesting.
In the lower Assam, in the prestigious Guwahati seat, though there is anti-incumbency against BJP, having it won twice in row, the absence of a strong INC candidate has given an edge to BJP to retain the seat once again. Guwahati has four urban assembly segments and the rest has rural settings and Muslim presence is not significant. The urban voters generally follow a national trend and with Narendra Modi continuing to enjoy a huge following across the nation, these urban voters in Guwahati are likely to back BJP in large numbers. In Barpeta and Dhubri, won by AIUDF in the last general elections, INC has emerged the front runners, primarily because of presence of Muslim voters. If the recent trend of Muslim desertion of AIUDF continues, these two seats will witness an INC comeback in 2019. Korajhar presents an interesting scenario. With just 28% Bodo voters, BPF will benefit only if there is division of non-Bodo voters. INC doesn’t have a strong candidate for this seat, whereas the sitting independent MP has lost a large number of voters primarily due to differences with the Aboro Suraksha Samity, his main backer in the last elections. With neither BPF nor INC being strong in this seat, the only way INC can win this seat is if the sitting MP decides to join the party, which however, till now has not materialized.
Of the balance 3 seats, in Diphu, BJP has a near stranglehold and is expected to win this seat with a thumping majority. In the Barak Valley, however, contrary to expectations, the scenario and demographic composition favours INC more than BJP. However, both Silchar and Karimganj will witness very close fights and especially in Silchar, the fight will be much closer and it could be anybody’s game. With the Hindu Bengalis, primarily on account of the BJP’s support to the CAB, backing BJP all the way and with Muslims backing INC, both seats will be very closely fought.
This analysis has been done on the assumption that AGP and AIUDF will fight these elections independently. However, in case, AGP decides to support either of the two national parties, the scenario may change in a few seats. In the event of AGP allying with INC, BJP will lose its edge in Lakhimpur, Tezpur, Mangaldoi and Guwahati. On the other hand, if AGP and BJP fight these elections together, the tentative spread of INC will be halted and its fortunes will be confined to just about 4 seats.
In the final analysis, BJP seems to be having an edge in the following seats: Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur, Tezpur, Nagaon, Guwahati and Diphu. INC is comfortable in 4 seats, two in upper Assam and two in lower Assam: Jorhat, Koliabor, Barpeta and Dhubri. Of the balance 4 seats, BJP has an advantage in Mangaldoi, whereas in Kokrajhar, it seems to be a non-Bodo independent candidate having the edge. Silchar and Karimganj could be anybody’s game with INC a little ahead due to the demographic pattern in Karimganj. So, it’s BJP in the driving seat once again as far as Assam is concerned in the forthcoming parliamentary elections.