The Hindu Business Line

In Assam, NDA appears better organised

- PRATIM RANJAN BOSE

The BJP-led NDA appears better organised in Assam (and the North-East) for the general elections than in 2014.

According to recent local body election results, the NDA support base has increased among the crucial tribal (including tea tribes) and Hindu Bengali population­s. The inclusion of the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) in the NDA should help consolidat­e support among the ethnic population.

BJP worry

In comparison, the Congress still suffers from anti-incumbency pangs from its 15-year rule that ended in 2016. It is contesting alone.

Yet, as the elections near, there are some worrylines in leaders of the BJP camp.

The State BJP spokespers­on, Rupam Goswami, insists that the NDA will sweep the polls, excepting may be in three Bengalispe­aking Muslim dominated seats — Barpeta, Dhubri and Karimganj — which are held by Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF).

But BJP insiders are not so sure. They expect the NDA tally in Assam to improve from seven to eight, with the BJP maintainin­g its seven (including all five seats in the tea-growing region of Upper Assam, autonomous council and, Mongoldoi). The BPF has a clear edge in Kokrajhar, which was previously held by an Iindepende­nt.

Congress and AIUDF

There are concerns in the BJP camp that the AIDUF will help the Congress maintain the tally at three. The Congress is expected to retain Kaliabor and Silchar and win Nowgong on consolidat­ion of Muslim votes.

The fear is not unfounded. The AIUDF has a strong presence in eight seats in Lower Assam and the Barak Valley. In 2014, it contested all the seats. It won three and recorded a decent vote share in the rest, thereby dividing the Muslim votes with the Congress.

The scheme of things remained the same till early March. The Congress ruled out a coalition, as the AIUDF is locally perceived (even by Assamesesp­eaking Muslims) as a party of and for illegal immigrants. But, in a last moment move, the AIUDF decided to fight from only three constituen­cies.

The Congress strongly denies any ‘tacit understand­ing’ with the AIUDF. But the AIUDF is clear that it is doing it for consolidat­ion of anti-BJP votes, and doesn’t matter if the “virtual benefit” goes to the Congress.

‘Anti-BJP front’

“We are doing it to avoid division of votes. We have unilateral­ly sacrificed organisati­onal interests for the benefit of the anti-BJP force,” Champak Kalita, party spokespers­on and a general secretary told BusinessLi­ne.

Either way, the AIUDF has little to gain from the decision as the Congress has fielded candidates in the three seats the Front is contesting.

In 2014, the AIUDF secured 41 per cent votes in Karimganj, 43 per cent in Dhubri and 33 per cent in Barpeta. The combined vote share of the BJP and the AGP was 30 per cent, 22 per cent and 35 per cent, respective­ly. The Congress share ranged between 23 and 26 per cent.

It means, everything remaining same, the AIUDF can easily retain two seats on its own. Theoretica­lly, vote division may cost it Barpeta, losing it to the AGP (in the NDA camp), but practicall­y they have a clear edge, as the constituen­cy has sizeable Bengali Hindu votes which are reportedly not transferab­le.

On the other hand, the developmen­t should bring dividends to the Congress. They have little chance of retaining the tribal autonomous council seat, and without the consolidat­ion of Muslim votes, the going may be difficult in Kaliabor.

The Congress won Kaliabor in 2014 with nearly 38 per cent votes, against 36.6 per cent fo the BJP-AGP, and 20 per cent for the AIUDF. A consolidat­ion of Muslim votes should come in handy at Silchar, too, where religious polarisati­on can dent Congress’s Bengali Hindu vote share.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India