Guwahati: With less than a month to go for Assembly polls in Assam, an opinion poll has predicted a win for the ruling BJP-led alliance.
The ABP C-voter Survey aired on Saturday claimed that the BJP, with its allies, would storm back to power with 72 seats with a loss of two seats in comparison to their performance in 2016 Assembly polls where the saffron party formed the government in Assam for the first time.
The opinion polls predict the Congress-led grand alliance minus the Bodoland People’s Front, which joined them only yesterday, is likely to get 47 seats. The BPF is likely to bag only four seats.
In terms of vote share, the BJP-led NDA alliance is likely to poll 43.8 per cent of votes. The Congress-led Mahajut minus the BPF is likely to get 41.4 per cent votes, and the BPF is projected to poll 1.1 per cent votes.
In terms of perception, it is the NDA that seems to be winning the game. While 43.8 per cent of the surveyed voters said they would choose NDA, almost 50 per cent said the alliance is likely to win the polls. Only 31.2 of the surveyed voters think that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance— with Badruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF, the three Left parties, the newly-formed Anchalik Gana Morcha, and the BPF—is likely to come back to power.
Sarbananda Sonowal, the incumbent chief minister, emerged as the most popular choice as per the opinion poll, with 44 per cent of the surveyed voters choosing him as their choice. Gaurav Gogoi, the MP from the Kaliabor Parliamentary constituency and the son of former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, who passed away last year, weeks after he recovered from Covid-19, is a surprise second with 26 per cent of those surveyed indicating him as their choice for the chief minister.
In perhaps even a bigger surprise, only 15 per cent of those surveyed by the agency chose popular BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma as their first choice for the Chief Minister. Sarma is BJP’s main strategist and troubleshooter in the region and has been at the forefront of defending the BJP’s policies, including the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, which had a section of the Assamese population up in arms after the law was passed in December 2019.
The 126-member Assembly will go to the polls in three phases. Voting for the first phase would be held on March 27, the second phase on April 1 and the final phase on April 6 as per the Election Commission of India schedule.
Besides what the opinion polls suggest, the elections in Assam would be a tough test for the complex alliances.
In 2016, the BJP came to power riding on a strong anti-incumbency wave against the last three terms of Congress’ government led by Tarun Gogoi. The two regional behemoths, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), which was born out of the anti-foreigners agitation of the 1970s and the 1980s and the BPF, consisting of former militants aided the saffron party’s successful poll pitch of protection of Jati, Mati and Bheti.
But the state’s politics has seen a lot of turbulence in the last five years. The Citizenship Amendment Act put the AGP in a precarious spot vis a vis its position in the state government which was supporting the changes to the citizenship law amid protests by local pressure groups.
The regional party’s influence has been on the wane. Its vote share came down from 8.14 per cent in 2016 Assembly polls to 6.7 per cent in 2019 Lok Sabha polls. But the BJP still chose to continue with the alliance.
“We didn’t want the votes to be further divided,” a senior BJP leader told EastMojo explaining the compulsion. The BJP has been careful in its messaging in the state and its leadership have so far skirted the contentious issues of the CAA, whose rules are yet to be framed, the National Register of Citizens which is in limbo and the Clause 6 committee recommendations report which is waiting for an expert legal opinion. It is banking on “development” and has pitched itself as the protector of Assamese language and culture as opposed to Congress which has aligned with AIUDF headed by Badruddin Ajmal whom senior minister Himanta Biswa Sarma called the enemy of Assam and its culture.
“Those who sit with Ajmal, can they stop infiltration?” Home Minister Shah asked in a packed public meeting in Nagaon on February 25.
Despite its pitch to protect the interests of the Assamese people, the saffron party expects that the new regional parties who are raking up issues of regional identity would cause some dent to its prospects. The massive 2019 anti-CAA protests have given birth to two regional parties, the Asom Jatiya Parishad consisting mainly of a section of the former All Assam Students Union activists, the student body whose leaders once formed the AGP and the Raijor Dal led by Akhil Gogoi, the jailed peasant rights activist who dabbles in Left politics with a strong regional focus. Both parties are contesting the elections in an alliance.
While this alliance is not expected to touch even the double-figure mark in terms of seats, it’s likely to eat into the vote share of both the NDA and the UPA, if statements of leaders of both parties are to be believed. ABP C voter opinion poll predicts the category of ‘other’ parties to get a sizeable 14.8 per cent vote share. A chunk of these votes is likely to go to the AJP-RD alliance.
Senior BJP leader and Union Home Minister Amit Shah repeatedly accused the new regional parties of trying to help Congress win the elections. The Congress-led alliance on the other hand had been desperate that these new parties join their anti-BJP grand alliance although their leaders claimed they would not hurt their prospects even if they didn’t do so.
The Congress has pinned hopes on the alliance with the AIUDF, a party that has a sizeable support base among Bengali-speaking Muslims mainly in lower Assam and Barak Valley. The alliance was forged despite opposition from a section of the leadership that views that a partnership with Ajmal could harm the Congress’ prospects among the mainstream Assamese voters who view the AIUDF as a party of Bengali immigrants. Party leaders pointed out how the alliance has led to the Congress performing poorly in the recently held Bodo Territorial Council Polls.
“We didn’t have a choice after Tarun Gogoi floated the idea,” said a senior Congress leader explaining that the party would have had to anyway battle the BJP’s accusation of a secret understanding between the AIUDF and the Congress even if it didn’t formally ally.
“We were caught between the devil and the deep blue sea,” this leader said.
The AIUDF is expected to contest around 25-30 seats with the alliance banking on a consolidation of the Muslim votes in their favour. The alliance is expected to bring in more seats from Central and Lower Assam and Barak Valley while it may lead to losses in Upper Assam.
“There were a lot of seats which we lost because the AIUDF fielded its candidates,” said a second Congress leader. The party had fielded 74 candidates in 2016, won 13 seats and forfeited deposit in 32 seats. It had a vote share of 21.3 per cent in the seats it contested. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the party polled 7.8 per cent of votes, even though it could just win one seat out of the three it contested.
Meanwhile, the BPF deciding to joint the Congress-led alliance has added an interesting twist to the polls. The regional party won 12 seats each in 2011 and 2016. It emerged as the single-largest party with 17 seats out of the 40 in the BTC elections last year and secured two per cent votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections with Pramila Rani Brahma polling the highest votes in four Assembly segments of the Kokrajhar Parliamentary constituency, the only one it contested.
The BJP is banking on its new ally, the United People’s Party Liberal, and the new Bodo Pact to rake in votes in the Bodo Territorial Region.