All eyes of Indian politics in 2021 are on the election of the West Bengal assembly. Most important are the Assam polls which will tell the great political tale of the coming years. Another convincing victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would show how it has learned to conquer territories that are not similar to it, not only electorally, but also politically and culturally. Though the outcome of West Bengal can be a seminal political event, anyway Assam remains a much more interesting and critical electoral experiment. The Assam election will be a strong determinant of the political trajectory of BJP.
In the past, Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP in Assam won 60 of the 126 seats on his own and 86 in alliance with his allies. This was a fresh intrusion on the part of the BJP, storming into an uncharted area. If 2016 was an electoral conquest, the years since then have seen the BJP strengthen its hold on the state both politically and at the socio-cultural level. Over the last six years, the BJP has gone from strength to strength, securing a host of assembly elections and a much greater vote in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. In the Lok Sabha elections of 2019, the party won nine of the 14 seats, limiting the Congress, which was the predominant party in the district, to only three seats. But right now, the things are very different compared to the last elections because of the 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act. “The Citizenship Amendment Bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act of 1955 to grant citizenship to members of six religious’ communities from three Muslim countries to protect them from religious persecution. As per the bill, people belonging to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian faith from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan will be granted Indian citizenship if they entered India on or before December 31, 2014, even if they do not possess the required documents. Any person not belonging to these communities or countries will not be covered under the Citizenship Amendment Bill.” This bill led to a political storm, with protests in Assam and the rest of the North-East, fearing that thousands of Hindus from neighbouring Bangladesh would gain citizenship. Assamese organizations claim that the bill will shift the burden of illegal migrants to the state alone.
On the other hand, BJP has been bagging victories in by-elections strengthening its power in India, for example, the recent Bihar and Ladakh elections. In Bihar, BJP-led alliance won 125 seats in the 243-member assembly. After the results, Mr Modi tweeted, “Democracy has once again won in Bihar with the blessings of the people. I congratulate the workers and express my heartfelt gratitude to the people of Bihar.” While in Ladakh’s first election after it became a union territory, BJP won 15 seats out of 26. BJP did face a blow in Kashmir’s DDC elections where Farooq Abdullah-led seven-party coalition, comprised of Abdullah’s National Conference (NC) and Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP), won 110 seats. The BJP won 75 seats and bagged a total of almost 4.87 lakh votes.
In Assam, if the BJP wins again, it will mean that Narendra Modi and Amit Shah’s gambling of pushing through the Citizenship Act did not hurt them in a single state where they would otherwise have spelt the doom. This would also mean that the Modi-Shah duo mastered the art of not only acquiring new territories but also governing them in all aspects, setting their own stamp and gaining absolute power. Apart from the Citizenship Act, the BJP-led government’s political and administrative acts, such as the successful revocation of Article 370, the passage of triple talaq and farm sector legislation can contribute to the defeat of BJP and its allies in Assam.
But if the BJP were to fail in the state, it would reveal the apparent shortcomings of party politics and its constant gambling. Assam is then a microcosm to assess the progress of the political paradigm of Modi-Shah. BJP is confident about winning Assam assembly. While on the other hand, Congress has denied any tie-up with other parties for the upcoming elections. “Rahul Gandhi, Jitendra Singh (general secretary in charge of Assam) and others said we should refrain from making any reference to a proposed grand alliance as such decisions would be taken by the All India Congress Committee,” a senior State Congress leader said on condition of anonymity. Congress General Secretary in charge of the state Jitendra Singh said, “We have neither finalized any alliance with the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) nor with the Left Front for the Assam polls.”
Everything aside Assam will be a hard nut to crack for the BJP this time. The government not only will face protests and will surely face hard-fought assembly elections in Assam, which will raise the political temperature. The predictions are against BJP while the Assam polls are eagerly awaited by everybody across India.