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BJP puts up spirited fight!

Elections to Assam’s premier civic body, the Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC), were held on 19 June. The results were declared this Monday. The Congress has won, bagging 17 of the 31 seats. But that’s about all. The results give no cause for exultation to the party or to rest on its laurels. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) closely tailed the Congress, winning 11 seats, while the regional party Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), which had led the famous ‘Assam movement’ from 1979 to 1985 and ruled the state for 10 years in two terms has been all but wiped out: it has managed to win only one seat. The Left – the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) – failed to open an account.

The results show clearly that the anti-Congress voters of this metropolitan city have rejected the AGP as an opposition party and gravitated towards the BJP.  What was noticed during the campaign was that it was not so much as the BJP as Narendra Modi who enthused these voters, especially the youth. Somehow they believe that Modi can ‘bring about a change’ though they are not very clear about the ‘change’ they expect Modi to usher in.

Another significant fact is that the polling was very low, only 49 per cent. Usually, low polling goes in favour of the ruling party. This time, despite the low polling, the Congress did not do well. The low turn-out of voters surprised the poll-watchers, because election to the GMC was held after 10 long years. The last election was held in 2003. In May 2008, after several councillors resigned, the elected body was dissolved and the GMC brought under direct government control. Throughout the campaign the BJP carried on a militant nationalist propaganda playing songs like INA’s marching song kadam kadam badhaye ja. The party did its best to intensify the fear that immigration from Bangladesh would bring about an irreversible demographic change in Assam.

The recent India-Bangladesh accord on exchange of chhit mahals or enclaves between the two countries came in as a fresh grist to the party’s propaganda mill. Following the accord, a joint Indo-Bangla survey of the enclaves to be exchanged is going on in Assam. In most of the places where the survey is being done, the BJP held demonstrations protesting against ‘handing over our land to Bangladesh’. As anti-Muslim, especially anti-immigrant Muslim, sentiment is very strong in the state, the BJP’s demonstrations evoked a ready response. In the Bodo-dominated areas of the state which saw large-scale clashes between the Bodo tribals and Bengali Muslims last year, the BJP is strengthening its presence. The party had its supporters among the Bodos. Charan Narzary, a former leader of the now defunct Plains Tribals Council of Assam (PTCA), was once made a vice-president of the state party. The Bodoland Territorial Council with much wider powers and a greater area than its predecessor Bodo Autonomous Council was formally inaugurated in December 2003, by the then Home Minister L K Advani. The Congress had been dragging its feet on this issue, much to the resentment of the Bodos.

The AGP was rejected by the voters because, as a seasoned political observer of Guwahati commented, it was perceived to have ‘betrayed’ the people of Assam. The rampant corruption it indulged in during its two stints of power, the endless faction feuds in the party and its totally lacklustre performance as an Opposition party gradually brought about a disenchantment of the people. Its social base started shifting to the BJP.

The just held GMC elections have brought out this fact sharply. Some former leaders of the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), once an ally of the AGP, have joined the BJP. Sarbananda Sonowal, a former president of the AASU and a former AGP MP from Dibrugarh, is now the president of the state BJP. The gradual emergence of the BJP as the main challenge to the Congress in Assam is likely to bring about a polarisation of the Muslim vote.

The All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), led by Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, has already emerged as the largest opposition party in the Assam Assembly with 17 MLAs. It has eaten away a large chunk of the Muslim vote, which had traditionally been with the Congress. If the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) comes to power at the Centre in the next general elections, this process of polarisation will be hastened and a Congress may have to seek an alliance with the AIUDF.
In the panchayat polls held in February this year, the AIUDF won the maximum number of seats after the Congress, forcing Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi to admit that that the AIUDF had emerged ‘as a strong political force’ in Assam. The outcome of the next Lok Sabha elections will have a direct impact on the alignment of political forces in the state.IPA

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