Guwahati: As 40 constituencies go to polls in the third and final phase of Assembly elections in Assam on April 6, the state is set to witness a neck and neck fight between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-led alliance or Mitrajot and the Congress-led Mahajot, that includes the All India United Democratic Front, Bodo People’s Front, Aanchalik Gana Morcha, Communist Party of India (Marxist), CPI and CPI (Marxist-Leninist).
The poll campaign for the final phase ended on Sunday, April 4, with leaders of both the alliances claiming that they will emerge victorious in the elections, which has seen its fair share of politicking and controversies.
The electoral battle in the North-Eastern state seems to be following a clear fight of strategies, with the BJP-led alliance referring to the elections as one to ‘safeguard Assam’s culture’ while the opposing alliance mainly relying on developmental promises as well as the sentiment against the Citizenship Amendment Act as the major poll plank.
In addition, there is an anti-incumbency sentiment against the BJP government due to the unrelenting price rise from food items to fuel, which has been conveniently forgotten by the BJP during its poll campaign.
"While the government is talking about building bridges and roads, the situation has become such that we cannot even afford to buy petrol to drive on these roads. Not only that, even though I did get an LPG cylinder I cannot afford to refill the cylinder due to the high price. I cannot afford to vote for this government again," an auto driver, who is a resident of Guwahati, told NewsClick.
A large number of the 40 constituencies going to polls on Tuesday, located in Lower and Western Assam are Muslim majority. Out of these, the BJP is facing a tough fight in the 11 Assembly segments which the party had managed to bag in 2016. In Golokganj and Bilasipara East in Dhubri district, the BJP had managed to win owing to division of votes between AIUDF and Congress in the last Assembly elections. However, with the Congress allying with AIUDF, BPF and other Left parties, the ruling party’s chances seem to have slimmed down.
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The mood seems to be similar in the rest of 10 constituencies, with strong anti-incumbency against the existing BJP MLAs. In Dudhnoi Assembly segment, the sitting MLA from BJP, Dipak Rabha, is contesting independently after he failed to secure a ticket from the saffron party. In Barpeta’s Sarbhog, CPI(M)’s Manoranjan Talukdar, backed by the Mahajot, has emerged as a strong candidate, particularly after the sitting MLA Ranjit Das shifted to Patacharkuchi fearing failure, according to political observers.
With Tuesday bringing the curtains down on voting in the state, the Opposition camp led by Congress appears confident of winning a comfortable majority, particularly with the help of the Badruddin Ajmal-led AIUDF, which had emerged as the third largest party after Congress and BJP in the last Assembly elections in the state. A look at the vote share from last time supports the Congress’s claims.
The saffron party’s vote share at 29.5% in 2016 was less than the Congress’ (30.9%). The AIUDF had managed 13% votes, while the NDA had gained 41.9% votes. The two other constituents of the NDA, the Asom Gana Parishad (8.1%) and Bodoland People’s Front (3.9%) had added 12% to the BJP’s 29.5%. However, with the BPF and AIUDF joining hands with the Congress, the Opposition camp’s numbers stand at 48% in the last election.
Both AIUDF and BPF wield considerable support in the constituencies going to polls in the third phase. Particularly in the Muslim-majority constituencies in Lower Assam, Ajmal can emerge as the kingmaker. While political observers in the state have said that Congress’s alliance with AIUDF may lead to division in Hindu votes, the situation on the ground doesn’t seem so.
According to reports in local dailies, the BJP’s poll plank of relying on the politics of dividing on the basis of religion and protection of ‘cultural identity’ seems to have few takers. The overwhelming mood, as expressed by Opposition alliance’s leaders, is for a change in government.
A district forest officer appointed from Guwahati, who did not wish to be named, said was clear that he will vote for anyone but BJP in the elections. "The party (BJP) has destroyed the political atmosphere in the state. While claiming to protect the culture of the state, it is they who are launching an attack on our unity by dividing us on the basis of religion," he told NewsClick.
He said: "Earlier, issues like ‘love jihad’ were not part of our conversation, however, the BJP is trying to forcefully drag such topics into the electoral campaign. They are trying to poison the environment in the state."
Also, the Opposition alliance has called out BJP’s “desperation” to retain its seats, as is evident from several instances in the past few days. On April 1, following the second phase of elections, there was huge public outcry after polling officers in the Ratabari constituency were found to be transporting a polled EVM machine in a car belonging to the wife of BJP candidate from the Patharkandi constituency. Later, the four polling officers were suspended.
In another instance, the BPF candidate from Tamulpur constituency in Bodoland Territorial Council’s Baksa district, Rangja Khungu Basumatary, joined the BJP on April 1. Following the candidate’s defection in the middle of the ongoing elections, both Congress and CPI(M) have demanded that the Election Commission suspend the polls in the constituency.
The Congress and its allies have lashed out at BJP’s last-ditch efforts to win. Addressing a rally ahead of the third phase, senior Congress leader Rockybul Hussain, who is the candidate from Samaguri in Nagaon district, accused BJP of engaging in ‘EVM stealing’, adding that the saffron party has realised their weak position in the state.
There is also a third front, formed by the alliance of the newly floated Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) and Raijor Dal, that decided to stay away from the two major alliances. The AJP, backed by the strong All Assam Students’ Union and the Assam Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chhatra Parishad; and the Akhil Gogoi-backed Raijor Dal, are focusing on regional identity as q poll plank.
Political observers feel these parties may cut into anti-BJP votes and anti-CAA votes, a conjecture also made by BJP’s chief strategist Himanta Biswa Sarma.
Another observation made by political analysts is that the AJP-Raijor Dal combine may hurt the BJP-led alliance by cutting into the vote share of AGP, which joined NDA in 2016.
Meanwhile, both AJP and Raijor Dal have extended their support to a few selected candidates from the Mahajot in constituencies where they are not contesting.
However, whether BJP’s ‘desperate’ attempts will yield the desired results or whether the Congress-led Mahajot will emerge strong will be clear only on May 2.
Also see: Ground Report | Guwahati: Voters Fear Stolen Votes