Dwaipayan

The electoral prospects of the grand alliance, however, could possibly have been brightened to a large measure if the AJP and the Raijor Dal had joined the six-party alliance. But they have made it crystal clear that they would maintain equidistance from the BJP, the Congress and the AIUDF.

Speculating about what the outcome of the Assam Assembly election this time will be, being held in three phases on March 27, April 1 and 6, is a tall order as it is going to be largely a triangular contest, not a bipolar one as the State witnessed in the 2016 State Assembly polls, with the tug of war at most constituencies being between the two major adversaries at the fray, the BJP-led ruling combination and a newly-formed grand alliance of the Congress-AIUDF-Left parties. In 2016 the Opposition Congress fought the State Assembly election on its own and bagged 26 seats. The AIUDF also fought it alone and notched up just 13 seats against 18 seats bagged in the 2011 Assembly polls, due to its declining influence. However, it is going to be the most exciting election, of a kind never before witnessed after the country’s independence because of the presence of several new regional political outfits that may impact the outcome in some constituencies in Upper Assam.

With barely a few days left for the election to be held, poll fever across the State has reached a feverish pitch following senior and influential leaders of the contending political fronts launching high-voltage electioneering and dishing out freebies to woo voters. The ruling BJP as of now seems to be ahead of all other political entities, with its star campaigners like Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, as also the State-level senior leaders, recently holding  a number of election rallies and meetings at different places drawing large crowds. Significantly, Modi only days before inaugurated three key projects in the oil and gas sector in addition to inaugurating and laying the foundation of the Dhemaji Engineering College and Sualkuchi Engineering College, respectively. Of late, Union minister Amit Shah during his poll-related tour of Nagaon district also assured the people at Batadrava that the BJP would carry on with its mission to make Assam free from floods, infiltration, corruption and agitation in the next five years while   inaugurating a project to beautify the Batadrava Thaan, birth place of Srimanta Sankaradeva, the cultural and spiritual icon, in a function at Batadrava. However, the PM did not raise any of the local issues ailing the State for long.

One can hardly contest the fact that of the two major political adversaries, the ruling BJP is the most potent force in terms of organizational network being cohesive and well-knit at the grassroots, in the current Assam politics. This had resonated in its stunning performance in the two elections – the 2016 Assembly and the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The BJP was a near non-entity in Assam in the 2011 Assembly election when it won a mere five out of 120 seats contested with vote share being 11.47%. But it succeeded in increasing its tally to 60 seats in the 2016 Assembly election by piggybacking on anti-incumbency against the Congress and forging a pre-poll alliance with the AGP, BPF and other regional groups of the Rabhas, Tiwas and Misings. On the other hand, the AGP also gained similarly from the alliance when its tally of seats increased to 14 in 2016 from 10 seats in 2011.

There will basically be three political fronts at the fray. The governing BJP-led ruling coalition with its partners, AGP, United People’s Party, Liberal (UPPL) and Gana Suraksha Party (GSP) of MP Naba Sarania, save for its coalition partner, the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), which has of course on February 27 last joined the Congress-led front. But the major challenge of both the BJP and the AGP at present lies in finalizing seats and candidates. Prima facie though it may seem that the seat-sharing talks between them will shortly end on a happy note, but in reality it may not happen in the event of the latter being reluctant to budge an inch from its demand for 30-40 seats, because as the AGP is rumoured to be confident that the poll understanding for this number of seats could be reached through negotiations with the BJP. But then it is also reported that the BJP in an attempt to reduce its dependence on any party for gaining an upper hand during the formation of the next government may prefer to field its own candidates in those segments for which the internal survey suggests sure wins for the ruling combine. During the 2016 Assembly election, the BJP left 24 seats to the regional party, and friendly contests were held in a number of constituencies. The State Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, while commenting on the AGP’s demand for 40 seats from the Saffron party, reportedly was of the view that if the regional party insisted on getting 40 seats, there may be friendly contest between the two in a number of constituencies.

The AGP leadership is perceptively worried about a likely erosion of its support base by the two new regional parties – the Assam Jatiya Parishad and Raijor Dal – forging a pre-poll alliance, because these two players will definitely put up candidates in all those seats which the AGP won in 2016. This may be the main reason why this time its leadership seeks to field candidates in more Assembly seats.

On the contrary, a section of the Assamese and indigenous people is unhappy with the Congress for entering into a pre-poll alliance with the AIUDF which seeks to oppose the repeal of the IM(DT) Act, 1983. The controversial Act was a major hurdle on the way to undertaking the work of 3ds – detection, de-franchising and deportation of the East Bengal origin illegal immigrants. Therefore, the indigenous people are worried that if the grand alliance is voted to power, its constituent AIUDF will work for the interests of the suspected Bangladeshi infiltrators. The seat sharing between the two parties also may not be smooth sailing because the AIUDF which had won 13 seats in the 2016 Assam Assembly seats may seek to increase its tally to get in a bargaining position in the event of the grand alliance forming the next government at Dispur. But then, giving more seats to the AIUDF may not merely add to the apprehension of the Assamese and indigenous people but also lead to a revolt within the Congress as is mirrored recently in several party bigwigs expressing their resentment over their party’s reaching a pre-poll understanding with the AIUDF.

The electoral prospects of the grand alliance, however, could possibly have been brightened to a large measure if the AJP and the Raijor Dal had joined the six-party alliance. But they have made it crystal clear that they would maintain equidistance from the BJP, the Congress and the AIUDF. But then the AJP has, in the meantime, reached a pre-poll alliance with the Autonomous State Demand Committee (ASDC). The BPF, on the other hand, has joined the grand alliance.

The ball is now in the court of the electorate. It is they who will finally decide which of the political fronts should be voted to power in Assam.