With the elections to Assam’s 126-member Assembly scheduled to be held in three phases, on March 27, April 1 and April 6, and the results set to be announced on May 2, the ballot battle is raging furiously in the State. On the arena we have the Opposition Mahajot comprising of the Congress, AIUDF, CPI-Marxist, CPI, CPI (Marxist-Leninist), Anchalik Gana Morcha, Bodoland People’s Front, and the Bihar leader Tejashwi Yadav’s RJD. Seemingly more redoubtable is the BJP, which has allied with the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL) of Bodoland, and appears to have greater monetary resources and fire power, given the reality that it is in the saddle at the Centre. In the normal course there might have been straight fights between these two alliances, but the situation has become more complicated by the entry into the fray of two newly-formed regional parties, the Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) and the Raijor Dal. In no previous elections have so many generals from other climes descended onto this battlefield, including Narendra Modi and Amit Shah of the BJP and Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra of the Congress. Also, never before have so many helicopters filled the skies of Assam and so many vehicles traversed the roads, raising clouds of dust which have tended to obfuscate salient issues.
At the commencement of the battle, the BJP clearly had the advantage, which had induced its leaders to talk about hundred plus seats in this contest. No doubt it had laid the groundwork for these elections by creating lakhs of ‘beneficiaries’ who were doled out cash and other material benefits, including subsidized rice. But as its opponents got their acts together, the saffron alliance has become jittery, as shown by the increasing communal overtones in the speeches of its leaders. Its biggest setback has been the agitation by the tea worker community, a group which the party had been cultivating but which remains dissatisfied at the Government’s failure to raise their wages to the extent they had demanded. The Mahajot has been trying to take advantage of the BJP’s discomfiture, with Congress leaders like Priyanka even plucking tea leaves to show the party’s empathy with tea workers! The BJP has understandably been silent on one key issue which would perhaps be a decisive factor, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). It may be noted that the AJP and Raijor Dal had been formed after the anti-CAA agitation in the State and have succeeded in bringing this issue to the fore despite the BJP shrugging it off as of no consequence. Another issue, unemployment, has also been exploited by the BJP’s opponents. As D-Day approaches it has become increasingly apparent that the BJP has lost its seeming invincibility and the battle has become too close to call!