How Far Possible is the BJP’s ‘Mission 100’ in Assam 2021?
BJP’s Mission 100
The BJP has started taking stock of its situation in each of the 126 Assembly constituencies of Assam in view of post-CAA protests.
BJP’s spokesperson and current finance minister, Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma, and even State BJP President Ranjit Kumar Dass had announced its “Mission 100” for Assam after the successful 2019 Lok Sabha polls in which it won 9 of the 14 seats reducing the Congress Party to an all-time low of 3 seats. BJP will retain power in Assam with at least 100 of the 126 Assembly seats in 2021 elections despite the protests against the party over Citizenship Amendment Act, Assam minister and BJP's strategist in the northeast, Himanta Biswa Sarma claimed recently.
After being severely dented by the CAA protests, does BJP stand a realistic chance of a shot at power again in Assam? That too with 100+ seats out from the 126 constituencies? Can the BJP’s individual vote share increase in the upcoming election as in 2016 Congress alone was leading the vote share in the elections? The Assam Congress, which had won three consecutive Assembly elections since 2001-2016, thinks not.
“We needed 84 seats for a two-thirds majority in the Assembly, and that we have achieved in last assembly election with our alliance. But we want to achieve more than 100 seats this time, so we have named it ‘Mission 100’,” state BJP president Ranjit Kr Dass said.
History says, conquer upper Assam, Dispur is yours!
Assam’s political history shows that whoever dominates in 42 seats in upper Assam, rules the state for 5 years. Koliabor to Sadiya has 42 constituencies and in previous elections it has been seen that the political party that has succeeded in grabbing the majority of the seats amongst these 42 have claimed the seat of power in Dispur. Till date, there has been no exception to this trend. In the three elections that the Tarun Gogoi-led government was formed, the Congress party had won 30 seats of the mentioned 42 in upper Assam, although by the 2019 elections they had lost their grip over the same. Of the 60 seats that led to BJP’s win in the 2016 general elections, more than half are from upper Assam. The Congress were left with just 6 seats in Nazira, Sibsagar, Titabor, Mariani, Doomdoma and Golaghat. Also, in a first since independence, the Congress won just one seat under the Dibrugarh Lok Sabha constituencies.
Congress’s Mission 80
Two factors contributed to the Congress’s electoral stability in three consecutive elections since 2001: 1) A high vote share of the Congress and 2) Separation of opposition votes. The fragmentation enabled the Congress to convert vote share into seat share repeatedly.
The Congress announced a target of winning 80 out of 126 seats in the Assembly polls in Assam in 2021 and decided to focus on re-establishing contact with the people. The Congress currently has 25 MLAs in the state Assembly out of 126 seats.
On the other hand, the AIUDF has 13 members in the House and there is one Independent.
“We have set the ‘Mission 80′ for 2021 and have started to work from now to achieve this target. This is a very serious challenge and not easy, but we are ready to take it. The main strategy to re-capture power in 2021 will be re-establishing contact with people and strengthening the booth committees,” senior leader and ex-chief minister Tarun Gogoi said to G Plus.
“We can learn from the RSS how they maintain connect with the people. We will visit each home and enquire about the peoples’ problems and see if the facilities promised by the BJP government have actually been delivered or not. We will have to spend more time in villages,” he added.
Gogoi said the Congress too had Seva Dal, Bharat Yuvak Samaj and other social organisations just like the various branches of the RSS, but these had become inactive over the years.
In terms of ‘Mission 80’ target, Tarun Gogoi will take leadership from the front. He, however, refrained from projecting anyone as the face of the Congress chief minister at this moment and said new leaders will emerge during the next two years.
“You can’t fool the people every time. The people of Assam know how many false promises the BJP had made in the 2016 Assembly elections. Modi had said Bangladeshi infiltrators would have to pack up after May 16 (2014). How many have left? Not one has been deported since the BJP came to power,” said the ex-chief minister.
What does the Congress spokesperson say?
“We are working to get back to in power in 2021. Yes, ‘Mission 80’ is realistic and to achieve this target, our grassroots booths have been working relentlessly for the last one year. We have a very strong 26,000 booths is the state and we have the strongest grassroots force in Assam,” said Rituparna Konwar, APCC state spokesperson to G Plus.
The Congress spokesperson admitted that the party became complacent after being in power from 2001 to 2016. He said, “After 15 years of Congress rule the people of Assam wanted a change. Moreover, five major factors have helped in BJPs image formation. 1) The Modi wave that engulfed the entire nation, 2) The popular image of Sarbananda Sonowal as the ‘jatiya-nayak’, 3) BJP’s promise to give employment to 25 lakh youths against the then prevailing global scenario of unemployment, and also their promise to send back the Bangladeshis, 4) The common people expected further development than what we had done, 5) Compared to the Congress government of 2001 and 2006, people were not happy with the 2011 government from around 2013.
“However, the people of Assam now think otherwise. Comparing the four years of the BJP-led government to the previous one of Congress, they have found their answers. Instead of keeping their promise of sending back the foreigners, the BJP government has violated the Assam Accord and is preparing to bring in more foreigners. And have they kept their promise of giving employment to the 25 lakh youths of Assam? Now, people are going to compare whatever work they have done with those of our government. During our tenure state organizations that were incurring loses like the ASTC were made profitable. Moreover, development was also done in the agriculture and law and order sector. Now the BJP is taking credit by completing the unfinished projects that were initiated by the Congress government. We had initiated the Bodoland Peace Accord back in 2003 amongst the Bodos and non-Bodos. However, BJP has now taken all the credit and have also immensely hurt the sentiments of the non-Bodo communities.”
After the humiliating defeat in 2016, Congress is focusing on improvement of its structural base and make its grassroots strong. Already, Congress has been working on connecting people at every district of the state. With the strong 26,000 booth, party workers have started its door-to-door activities. Pada-Yatra, initial publicity works have been started from now.
On the other hand, in just 5 years, theBJP’s membership in Assam has increased more than twenty-fold from just about 2.5 lakhs to nearly 60 lakhs. Most of the urban local bodies are with BJP, including most major towns. For the first time, the BJP had contested the Bodoland Territorial Council elections, and won a seat.
Electoral change and the unstable road to Dispur
The assembly elections of 2016 were held in two phases with 65 seats and 61 seats respectively. While the first phase of the election covered largely the constituencies of upper Assam and Barak Valley, the second phase of elections was held primarily for the lower Assam assembly seats. The BJP, AGP and Bodo Peoples’ Front (BPF) fought on a common platform under NDA (National Democratic Alliance) whereas the Congress had an alliance with the United People’s Party (UPP) in the BTAD.
The BJP-led alliance showed a formidable performance in the first phase with BJP winning 38 seats and its allies winning 10 seats out of the 65 seats. In the second phase, again BJP got the lead with 22 seats and the allies won 16 seats out of 61 seats.
The NDA won 74 percent seats in the first phase and 62 percent seats in the second phase. A phase-wise breakup of the election results indicates that the BJP emerged stronger in upper Assam and the Barak Valley where it got considerably more seats than its allies. In lower Assam, NDA’s alliance partner BPF could retain its previously held seats.
The Congress could maintain a 31 per cent vote share in the 2016 elections, but the BJP gained 55 seats. The Congress lost 52 seats and around 8 percent vote share. This suggests that in the 2016 election, a primary challenge before the Congress had been the conversion of vote share into seat share. Ironically, despite such vote share erosion, the AGP could gain four seats, the BPF could retain 12 seats.
The Congress had lost 5 seats to the AIUDF, 1 seat to an independent candidate and 46 seats to the NDA. But can the erosion in vote share combined with a gain in seat share for the AGP to be rewind again? Can BPF retain their performance again after the historical Bodo Treaty, as more than 3 lakh non-Bodos are not satisfied with the treaty.
The BJP has had more vote share and seat share than the AGP in all Lok Sabha elections since 1998. Both the BJP and the AGP had forged alliances for the 2001 Assembly polls and the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, but transfer of votes to either side failed to materialize on both occasions. This led to political stagnation for both the BJP and the AGP. And simultaneously the Congress continued its dominance.
A comparison of the 2014 Lok Sabha election results with the 2009 Lok Sabha and the 2011 Assembly election results clearly suggest a political shift with the BJP’s rise in upper Assam. The BJP has remained strong in the Barak Valley and lower Assam regions traditionally. But after BJP suffered a humiliating defeat in Delhi and Bihar, the coalition thus emerged as a key card for the BJP in Assam. On the other hand, the Congress and the AIUDF refrained from forging an alliance and the BPF had broken its alliance with the Congress subsequent to the 2014 elections. The Congress considered a pre-poll Congress-AIUDF alliance might intensify polarization along religious lines and may be a disadvantage to the Congress, particularly in upper Assam. On the contrary, the BJP’s alliance formulation worked to its advantage in two ways.
Firstly, the Congress–AIUDF competition caused dispersion of opposition votes in lower Assam
and the Barak Valley, and consequently, the BJP could wrest a considerable number of seats from the Congress in these two regions. Despite the AIUDF maintaining roughly the same vote share as in the previous assembly elections, the swapping of seats between the Congress and the AIUDF explains how the AIUDF suffered erosion of seat share as its social base fragmented.
Secondly, in upper Assam, the NDA alliance worked formidably well primarily because the AIUDF has no evidential social base in upper Assam and the Congress had lost a substantial part of its social base during the 2014 Lok Sabha election. An alliance with the AGP in upper Assam prevented the dispersion of anti-Congress votes and added to the NDA’s gains. Additionally, the BJP could forge a social alliance with the plains tribes of Assam stretching from lower Assam (Bodos and Rabhas) to upper Assam (Tiwas, Kacharis and Mishings). It could take the plains tribes’ leadership into confidence to forge a kind of informal social alliance (Misra, 2016). The NDA won 75 per cent of seats in upper Assam and 64 per cent and 60 per cent of seats in lower Assam and the Barak Valley, respectively.
No more chances: 20+ BJP MLAs may not get ticket
A high level source reveals that the state BJP high command is searching for more than 20 new faces in the existing BJP-held constituencies for the upcoming Assam assembly elections of 2021. This process is in place with the leadership of CM Sarbananda Sonowal and NEDA convener and state finance minister, Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma. As per reports, a Report Card has been prepared, which showcases the probabilities and possibilities of winning again in respective constituencies. Source said, Silchar MLA Dilip Paul, Borkhola MLA Kishor Nath, Kaatigarah MLA Amar Chand Jain, Udarband MLA Mihirkanti Som, Haflong MLA Birbhadra Hagjer, West Bilasipara MLA Ashok Singhal, Palashbari MLA Pranab Kalita, Hajo MLA Suman Haripriya, Dispur MLA Atul Bora, Nalbari MLA Ashok Sarma, Barkhetri MLA Narayan Deka, Mangaldoi MLA Gurujyoti Das, Barsola MLA Ganesh Kr Limbu, Biswanath MLA Pramod Barthakur, Raha MLA Dimbeswar Das, Nagaon MLA Rupak Sarma, Hojai MLA Shiladitya Deb, Lamding MLA Shibu Mishra, Bihpuria MLA Debananda Hazarika, Moran MLA Chakradhar Gogoi and a few other MLAs may not get tickets from BJP this time as the report says that these MLAs have failed to maintain enough public trust and base to retain their seats again. BJP’s state high command wants alliance groups viz, AGP and BPF also to follow the same to ensure that Mission 100 is successful.