In India, elections are akin to wars, except that mass slaughter does not take place, though a few lives are occasionally lost in clashes! Elections in Assam are expected to be particularly warlike this year, given the polarization of positions vis-a-vis issues like the Citizenship Amendment Act. With the announcement of the dates for the three-phase polls in the State, the various contending parties have begun preparations on a war footing, and the ambience is gradually heating up. At one time it had seemed that the ruling BJP under the leadership of Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal was sitting pretty, as evidenced by the confident, verging on the arrogant, predictions being made by his lieutenants. The BJP had been craftily laying the groundwork for the elections by creating lakhs of ‘beneficiaries’ who were doled out cash and other material benefits, including subsidized rice, which has to a great extent been able to paper over the Government’s deficiencies, like its inability to create the promised number of jobs or control the rise in prices. The BJP’s dominance had been further bolstered by repeated visits to Assam by party bigwigs from Delhi, such as those of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. However, there have been developments of late which threaten to upset the BJP’s applecart, notably the formation of an Opposition alliance, coupled with the forceful emergence of alternative regional political entities.
While, at the beginning, the Opposition ‘Mahajot’ comprising of the Congress, AIUDF, CPI-Marxist, CPI, CPI (Marxist-Leninist) and AGM (Anchalik Gana Morcha) had not quite fancied its chances, it has in recent days attained considerable strength with the joining of the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) as well as the Bihar leader Tejashwi Yadav’s RJD. The BPF, it may be noted, commands influence in Bodo-inhabited areas, and the RJD can wean away at least a section of the substantial Hindi-speaking voters. Adding to the BJP’s discomfiture has been agitation by the tea workers community, a group which the party had been assiduously cultivating but which remains dissatisfied at the Government’s failure to raise their wages to the extent they are demanding. The saffron party has also been concerned at the fall in popularity of its ally the AGP and the grapevine has it that the latter would be offered far less seats than during the last elections. The dark horses in the race are the two newly-formed regional parties, the Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) and the Raijor Dal, which have allied together, and appear to have garnered sufficient support among the masses to make the ruling regime somewhat jittery. The contending parties are currently preoccupied with seat adjustments and candidate selections, essential though hazardous aspects of the preparation for the impending war, and the prospects of each would become clearer only after these are completed.