Home Minister Amit Shah at a rally in Assam. (PTI file)
The Election Commission of India on Friday announced the dates for the elections to the Assam Assembly, set to be held over three phases — March 27, April 1 and April 6 — with the results to be declared on May 2.
The elections will see a triangular contest between the BJP and its allies, the Congress and its ‘grand alliance’, and an alliance of two newly-formed regional parties as a third front.
Soon after the dates were announced, senior Assam minister and the BJP’s key leader in the Northeast, Himanta Biswa Sarma, tweeted, “Assam Assembly Polls are announced and we seek your blessing to form government again. We’re grateful for your faith and cooperation in the last 5 years during which Assam witnessed stupendous growth. We promise to continue the same under the leadership of Hon PM Sri Narendra Modi.”
When the Citizenship (Amendment) Act or CAA was first proposed, influential groups across the state argued that it was detrimental to the interests of the indigenous people of Assam. The two new regional parties — Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) and the Raijor Dal — owe their genesis to the massive anti-CAA protests that led to at least five persons being gunned down by security forces in clashes. The two parties will contest the coming elections together against the BJP.
In the 2016 elections to the 126-member House, the winning alliance comprised the BJP (61), the Bodoland People’s Front (13 seats) and the Asom Gana Parishad (14 seats). This time, the BJP will continue its alliance with the AGP but has broken with the BPF, instead going with the United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL) in the Bodoland region.
Meanwhile, the Congress and the AIUDF, together with three Left parties and a regional party, have announced a grand alliance against the BJP. AIUDF leader Badruddin Ajmal enjoys a large support base in the state’s Bengali-origin Muslim community.
In Assam, where ethnic fault lines are rigidly marked, the BJP’s political rhetoric for the elections has centred on development and “saving” Assam’s culture and language, especially from the perceived threat of Bengali-origin Muslim community. Even as the saffron party talks about infrastructure development, it has constantly attacked Ajmal and the AIUDF. It has criticised the Congress for tying up with AIUDF.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Thursday said that the Congress has tied up with Ajmal in its “lust for power”.
Sarma recently called Ajmal an “enemy” of Assam and claimed that he was “trying for something which is alien to Assamese culture”.
The Congress-led alliance is concentrating on the anti-CAA stance. The party has called the BJP’s promises as “lies”. Addressing a rally earlier this month, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said his party will not let the CAA be implemented if it comes to power, and that it will protect the Assam Accord.
The new parties too are vociferously campaigning against the CAA and about protecting the Assamese identity, while talking about strengthening the state’s economy, amongst other issues.