The Hindu Business Line
In Assam, NDA appears better organised
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.
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.
“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.