The 2021 Assembly Elections have been an interesting phenomenon right from the day they were declared. The elections brought several factors to light. This includes the BJP’s strategy to win over the masses through schemes like Orunudoi, Bani Kanta Kakati Award, Jal Jeevan Mission, the construction of roads and bridges, and acquiring the support of the tea community, who were always considered habitual Congress voters. 

One must also mention the BJP’s strategy of choosing the right alliance partners, as against the main Opposition consisting of the Mahajot led by the Congress. The other opposition: new regional parties like Raijor Dal and Asom Jatiya Parishad, failed to make a mark in the election results while the BJP sustained itself in power.

The Election also brought in other issues like religious polarisation, with the BJP playing the role of the protector of the Hindu faith, while the Congress, especially through its alliance with the AIUDF, which has since its inception fought for the right of the Muslims of Assam, tried to win over the Islamic community to its side. 

Voters across Assam in Hindu-majority areas were talking about how it was imperative to protect the Hindu faith. And for that to happen, it was inevitable to vote for the BJP, as the Congress was planning to sabotage Hindu rights by supporting Badruddin Ajmal who would eventually become the state’s Chief Minister if the Mahajot came to power. 

Such claims were made as to the principal parties in the game, the BJP and the Congress were launching whatabouteries, with Himanta Biswa Sarma to Amit Shah of the BJP targeting Badruddin Ajmal in each of their speeches to the Congress and the new regional parties, promising new developmental schemes as against the fundamentalism of the BJP.

The elections were unique in the political history of Assam, as the BJP-led Mitrajot became the first non-Congress government to retain power for a second term. Similarly, peasant leader and RTI activist Akhil Gogoi won the Sivasagar seat from jail. And the tug of war that ensued between Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma and Sarbananda Sonowal for the post of the Chief Minister ended with Dr Sarma chosen for the post. 

A new twist emerged in the state’s politics with the resignation of Congress MLA from Mariani, Rupjyoti Kurmi. Kurmi tendered his resignation to Speaker Biswajit Daimary on June 18. Incidentally, a few days back, Kurmi and other members of the Congress party praised Dr Sarma as being one of the most potent leaders and that his first month as Chief Minister has been of great success. 

While there are rumours that there would be more MLAs of the Congress who would resign and switch over to the BJP, considering the Anti-Defection Law, there are other larger questions that lurk over the future of Assam’s politics and especially the position of the Congress.

Also Read | Assam: Congress MLA Rupjyoti Kurmi resigns, to join BJP

Our tours across Assam in a pre-poll analysis revealed that people, especially in the Hindu-majority areas throughout Upper and Lower Assam, do not see Congress recuperating anytime soon. 

According to most, the Congress could be back into form only if Himanta Biswa Sarma returned to the Congress. While this question does not arise, at least in the new future, several miscalculations on the part of the political organisation of the Congress party need to be addressed and analysed.

One chief blunder that the Assam Congress, who later convinced the High Command in the Centre to commit the same, was that they ignored the claims and prospects of the then Health and Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. At that time, Sarma was engaged in a cold war with the then Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi over the stewardship of the state. While both the State and Central Leadership of the Congress sided with Tarun Gogoi, they failed to realise the significance that Dr Sarma had acquired in the politics of the state over the years.

This was followed by his resignation along with 38 of the dissident MLAs who were his close allies, in 2015, and later his joining the BJP and becoming its star campaigner in the 2016 and 2021 Assembly Elections. Both elections led to the victory of the BJP and relegated Congress to the background in the state. 

While Congress’s decision to ally with the AIUDF alienated the majority vote share, its selection of candidates in important constituencies further contributed to the losses incurred by the party. In such a state, the legal defection of Rupjyoti Kurmi, and if rumours of others following suit are to be true, the fate of the Congress in the politics of the State will be a matter of both concern and speculation.

Also Read | Assam polls: Congress chief expresses discontent over candidate selection

(Swaswati Borkataki teaches history at Assam Royal Global University.)

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