Why the Lotus bloomed in 2014 and continues to bloom in Assam and NE
The party that had begun in 2014 with the coronation of Narendrabhai Damodardas Modi as the Prime Minister of India continues unabated. This time Assam and the rest of northeast India too joined in giving a whopping 18 out of 25 seats to the BJP-led alliance in northeast including an impressive 9 in Assam. An important aspect in this victory march is the fact that BJP also increased its vote share in Assam to over 35% from a shade below 30% it received in 2016 state Assembly elections. This alone reaffirms people’s faith in the “Lotus” which started blooming only in 2014 in Assam when the party bagged 7/14 seats in the state and formed the state government in 2016 by bagging a near majority 61 seats in the assembly elections. This faith of the people of Assam in BJP has many facets and this article will try to disseminate the primary reasons both nationally and within the state and what it means to the principal opposition party in Assam, the Indian National Congress.
While the experts nationally have already dished out the reasons for the thumping electoral victory achieved by Narendra Modi led Bharatiya Janata Party in the just concluded Lok Sabha elections, for Assam this victory also has important messages in the coming years. One of the important messages in this victory is that the issue of Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2016 has died a natural death and along with it, Assam’s oneness with India has been given an overwhelming thumbs-up by the people. Bharat Mata Ki Jai will now be as sweet as Jai Ai Axom to the people’s ears and the issue of Assamese sub-nationalism will be put to the back burner with the impending deterioration in the health of Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), the supposed torch-bearer of regionalism in Assam. The biggest loser in these elections in Assam is not the Indian National Congress but the AGP and the message for the future is that in Assam the electoral battles will turn binary with only BJP and Congress being the primary contenders and other regional parties playing minor roles.
Coming to the issues that propelled BJP to their biggest political victory in Assam, it has to be kept in mind that women voters have turned out in equal numbers to male voters and with many welfare schemes targeted at the women folk across the country it was inevitable that majority of the women would vote for BJP. The welfare schemes like Ujwala, Direct Benefit Transfer etc had its direct impact on women voters and they responded positively. Additionally, other flagship schemes such as PM Awas Yojana, Swachh Bharat, PM Kisan, Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana, Jan Dhan, MUDRA etc have given a positive spin to the election campaign of BJP. This also means that in Assam, BJP candidates have received minority votes contrary to the earlier perception that BJP attracts only Hindu voters per se.
The second primary issue that has swayed voters is the votary for nationalism propagated by the BJP campaigners led by the Prime Minister himself. In the aftermath of Pulwama, the response given by the central government through Balakot resonated well with the voters in the form of a strong central leader, Narendra Modi. The narration stayed in the minds of the voters while pressing the EVM buttons giving BJP a decisive edge in the electoral battle. Pride in Indian nationalism has been a central theme in most BJP election campaigns and so far, it has proved to be a “brahmashtra” amongst the arsenal stored by BJP. In Assam this went down well with the electorate. In contrast, Congress’s feeble attempt at diverting the nationalism issue through weak arguments and seeking of proof by Congress sympathisers only pushed BJP closer to the voters and any economic mis-management at the centre was pushed to the bottom of the ladder.
Further, the central theme in Rahul Gandhi’s campaign “Chowkidar Chor Hain” was bordering on negativity and the electorate didn’t response to this line of campaigning. True, that Rahul Gandhi did try to bring to the fore the issues of unemployment and other related economic issues such as farmers’ plight etc but in the end the combined weight of nationalism and popular welfare schemes drowned out the less than satisfactory economic performance of the BJP government at the centre.
In Assam, the tea tribes overwhelmingly once again voted for BJP and delivered at least four seats in upper and central Assam to the BJP kitty. The welfare schemes unleashed by the state government directed at the tea communities have helped BJP consolidate communities under one banner and strengthen its stranglehold further. Congress’s hold over tea communities have further dwindled and a serious introspection is required by state Congress leadership to repair the damage. However, one can safely say that the tea communities’ trust in BJP has been firm and is unlikely to be weakened in the near future and with the impending state elections in less than 24 months’ time, the state government will make further inroads into the community making it virtually impossible for the Congress to sustain whatever little hold it has over these voters.
Finally, apart from the perception of negativity in the Congress campaign, the tag of “minority appeasement” has stuck to the Congress effectively. The rumours of a clandestine deal struck with AIUDF on the eve of elections and AIUDF not fielding candidates in at least 5 constituencies with sufficient minority voter base had given credence to the rumour and this directly helped BJP to consolidate its Hindu voter base. And though BJP lost the Nowgong seat to INC for the first time in 20 years, its bagging of over 7 lakh votes (as against 4.95 Lakh votes in 2014) is a pointer to Hindu consolidation. Congress needs introspection not only nation-wide but in Assam as well and it has to start by going back to the people at the grass roots.
In the end, continuity of BJP government at the centre augurs well for Assam and the rest of North East. Without a break in pursuing the economic agenda already rolled out for the state would be considered a good sign of proper governance and unless a major blunder on the political front is committed, BJP will be on a roll in two years’ time when the state goes for the assembly elections.