BJP president Amit Shah has received an overwhelming endorsement from party’s leadership for the second term in the office. In his second innings, with elections to several state assemblies coming up, he has the opportunity to consolidate his position within the party further. The first assignment his way to organise party’s campaign in the northeastern and politically significant state of Assam where the poll bugle has been sounded by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Though, the Modi-Shah team failed to deliver two crucial state assemblies – Delhi and Bihar – to the party, its hopeful of changing the Tarun Gogoi regime in Assam and also making a respectable presence felt in West Bengal, the bastion of Trinamool Congress.
The BJP is also ready to test political waters in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, where it has negligible or no presence. Under Shah’s leadership, the BJP expects that its party president would be back in form crafting poll winning strategies.
Despite the upbeat mood, making its presence felt in West Bengal and emerging as a single largest party in Assam is still a mission which looks impossible but that’s the challenge which Modi-Shah team wants to take up. It’s very much evident that BJP is not a strong contender in West Bengal, which is under the rule of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who routed the Left out in 2010, after more than three decades of the CPM rule in the state. The mission in West Bengal for the BJP as of now is to make a strong presence felt by securing respectable votes in some the assembly constituencies, which has sizeable amount of BJP minded voters.
The greater target for Modi-Shah team is Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi of Assam, who is battling an anti-incumbency factor (having won three straight elections) and an array of party dissidents. The Asom Gana Parishad of former Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta is barely regarded as a major contender but two major parties which are regarded as crucial to either side’s success or failure are Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) and the Bodoland Peoples Party which has held power in the Bodoland Territorial Council in Western Assam for a decade. There were efforts by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, riding on his recent success, to stitch the first three into an electoral alliance and thus unitedly dent the BJP’s chances, which has been rejected by Gogoi citing electoral share issue. The Bodos have now decided to go with the BJP.
“The present scenario in both the states are different from that of Lok Sabha election time, where there was a Modi wave all across the country. The challenges for the BJP are many – right from candidate selection, choosing alliance partners and poll agenda of the party. In case of West Bengal, BJP has the option to rake up the development agenda and Gorkhaland issue to make their presence in those areas as in the mainland the main fight will be between Left and TMC,” said Arvind Mohan, a noted political commentator.
Agreeing with the views of Mohan, another political analyst Jay Shankar Gupta said, “The BJP has never performed well in West Bengal. The state, which was always being ruled by Left parties, only once figured in BJP political map in 90s when Tapan Sikdar and another person became ministers in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee cabinet. The party has been registering its victory in the Lok Sabha election from the state on Darjeeling seat and it’s after several years that BJP has won another Lok Sabha seat – Asansol, which was won by Babul Supriyo in the Modi wave.”
“No doubt, BJP has tried to make an imprint among Hindibhashi (Hindi speaking people) voters by playing Hindu card, but will it be enough for BJP to win some assembly seats in the state where Bangladeshi infiltration is becoming an issue of utmost attention. The political arithmetic of West Bengal is different from any other state as Muslim voters are rallying behind Mamata Banerjee, and BJP is left with migrant and Hindu voters,” quipped Gupta, who is also Executive Editor of Deshbandhu.
Gupta further explains that even though Congress is in vegetative state in West Bengal, the Left parties are mulling a grand alliance with it, which doesn’t seems to be realistic as Left is the main opponent of Sonia Gandhi-led party in Kerala. “If Left wants to emerge as a force against TMC in alliance with Congress in West Bengal, it has to think about the political compulsions of the party in Kerala too and if both make a mutual agreement, the move will bother BJP more than TMC,” Gupta explained.
In comparison to West Bengal, the assembly election in Assam has better chances for BJP after the saffron party won seven Lok Sabha seats out of 14 in the northeastern state. The expectations of the party are very high from this state, which borders Bangladesh. The party has appointed Sarbananda Sonowal, also a minister in Modi cabinet, as state president of the party.
Sonawal is seen as the key to the BJP’s game plan for victory in Assam’s. The other important face who is entrusted to make BJP victorious in the state is Himanta Biswa Sarma, a long-time Congress leader who knows the ins and outs of Congress, local politics as well as government systems as few others.
Commenting on the key areas which need to be addressed by BJP leadership, Mohan said, “It all depends on alliance partners of the BJP. If the party succeed in bringing Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) to its fold, the BJP may gain a lot as voters of both AGP and BJP are same. There are some hiccups in it as AGP Chief Prafulla Mohanta, who himself is a Chief Minister contender, may not like to accept the chief ministerial candidate of BJP as Sonawal.” The candidature of Sonawal has not been officially announced, but it’s evident that BJP is projecting the young leader, who had switched his side from AGP, as its CM nominee, Mohan added.
“The other problem with BJP is its vote share which is being shared by Congress too such as Hindu Bengali, Hindu Assamese, Hindibhashi (Hindi speaking migrants). Though it has sealed an understanding with Bodo People’s Front (BFP), the BJP would need to enter in political agreement with AGP, to accomplish the Mission 64 plus,” said Mousamjyoti Baishya, a Guwahati-based political analyst.
Baishya further said, “The announcing of Scheduled Tribe status for Bodos, Karbis and Mikirs by Modi in Kokrajhar is a big move to woo tribal voters of Lower Assam, which is dominated by Bodos.”
Pointing at BJP’s leadership vacuum in Assam, senior journalist Shekhar Dey said, “The BJP has never concentred on creating a bunch of pool of talented leaders and when the elections are on their head, the party has started importing leaders from other parties. Sonawal was brought into the party from AGP during the Lok Sabha polls and now BJP has brought nine MLAs of Congress to his side.”
“The all nine rebel MLAs of Congress, now BJP members, are known for only bad reasons, which may pose a problem for the BJP, which talks about corruption free government. There are allegations of running syndicates of corruption by most of the MLAs who have been included in BJP. The double standard move of BJP has not gone well with people of the state,” Dey stated.
“It’s also that as like Narendra Modi there is no case of corruption against Tarun Gogoi, the incumbent Chief Minister. While cases of graft have been registered against Gogoi’s cabinet colleagues, which are enough for opposition to point out fingers at Gogoi,” Baishya said.
If the alliance between All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) which is led by Badruddin Ajmal and Congress takes place before the assembly poll, it will sweep the game in favour of Congress. According to political experts, Gogoi is not in favour of the pre-poll alliance as it may dent his core vote bank – Ahomia (Assamese residents), Bengali Hindus and Assamese Hindus and Muslims. The modern Chanakya of politics – Prashant Kishore – had tried to convince Gogoi about making an agreement with AIUDF, AGP and JDU under the banner of Mahagadbandhan, which was turned down by the incumbent CM, who will the face of party for the fourth consecutive term.
The BJP’s game plan would be to play up Hindu sentiments and try to ensure that the AIUDF and the Congress don’t become allies as Hindus continue to be the overall majority. The 2011 Census report said that Muslims comprised 34.2 per cent of the overall population. Hindu groups are subdivided into many factions spread over diverse geographical areas and ethnic loyalties. The BJP would need to see how it gains in Upper Assam, especially among the tea garden and Nepali communities.
Banking upon the huge success in parliamentary elections, BJP leader Shahnawaz Hussain said, “The party will win Assam assembly with simple majority as we had won seven of 14 Lok Sabha seats by defeating Congress heavyweights,” adding, “If we translate the Lok Sabha victory into assembly seats, it turns out to be a gain in 66 legislative seats, which is enough to make stable government.”