Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Bihar flavour in ‘Assam tea’ ! A Game-Changer

BJP's vote share crossed 36 per cent in 2014 Lok Sabha polls while Congress suffered a 10 per cent decline coming down to 29.9. These had generated hopes in the saffron party to make a bid for power in Assam. But the Bihar results will possibly make things easier for Congress provided it can join hands with other anti-BJP forces.

The Bihar results are a sound message on how elections should not be fought. To lose an election is certainly a no big deal. Politicians have the right to be defeated — this was how the legendary Chandrashekhar had reacted when the VP Singh-Devi Lal machinations humbled him in the internal politics of the then Janata Dal. 

But the manner in which the Bihar polls were mishandled by the BJP and a convincing victory was handed over to rivals from a near winning position is akin to the Indian cricket team’s performance, especially in the  1990s. 
But this defeat has changed the game now in Assam altogether.

Faceless voters: Gamechangers
The political landscape of the BJP in Assam till the other day had suggested that the seat of Dispur was within its reach. 

Even Congress supporters were reconciling to the fact that come April-May 2016, Tarun Gogoi would face his Waterloo.

But once the results from Bihar poured in, notwithstanding the bravado from Assam BJP chief Sidhartha Bhattacharjee, everyone within the saffron outfit and outside felt the fallout could be visible in next spring’s Assam polls.

In fact, no sooner did the Bihar results herald a Black Sunday (8 November) — ironically on the eve of Diwali — for the BJP; its principal rivals,  the pro-minority All India United Democratic Front and the Congress, wasted no time in claiming that the pro-Hindutva party’s journey would be halted.
Terming the success of the JD(U)-RJD-Congress grand alliance as a victory for  “secularism”, All India United Democratic Front chief Badruddin Ajmal claimed the Bihar poll results would have a national impact and the BJP would suffer defeat in Assam. As expected, embattled chief minister Tarun Gogoi was the happiest person when he said, “We are not talking about a mahajot (grand alliance). We are talking of ‘maha-understanding’ among forces fighting the BJP” — thereby making a clarion call to  all non-BJP parties like the Congress, AIUDF, Asom  Gana Parishad, Bodoland People’s Front and Gana Mukti Sangram to come together.

But here lies the big catch. In the words of Gogoi itself is hidden the bitter ground reality of Assam that can, in fact, save the day for  the BJP. The saffron party, which picked up seven of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in Assam in 2014, never had to face a united opposition in the past. Or in a precise political sense – “anti-BJPism” has never been a cause for unity with rest of the political forces in the state.
Instead, it has been one of the key partners of the AGP, once known for its regional muscular polity, and reportedly a few individual BJP leaders have done “unofficial” business even with the AIUDF for specific seats like in communally vulnerable Silchar.

Moreover, unlike Bihar where Amit Shah’s brand of politics did not cut any ice with voters, in Assam the saffron party has a much cooler and level-headed Ram Madhav as the general secretary in charge. Having handled a tough election in Muslim-stronghold Jammu and Kashmir, Madhav, though an RSS favourite, has been undertaking his responsibilities in Assam in a very sober and matured manner.
The complacency the  BJP showed in Bihar could be corrected by then in Assam and in contrast a taste of victory for the Congress — 27 seats in Bihar — could bring back the good old arrogance demon in Congress workers. In such a scenario with about five months to go for the spring, the battle in Assam now also looks wide open.

Despite advantages, the Congress has the good old face of Tarun Gogoi, three-time chief minister. He now harbours ambitions of putting forward his member of Parliament son Gaurav Gogoi’s case. This will certainly not go down well with both voters and Congress workers. The desertion of Himanta Biswa Sarma, one-time trusted Gogoi lieutenant, is essentially attributed to the “Junior Gogoi factor” than Sarma’s trust on the “vibrant leadership” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as they put it.
 Interestingly, Sarma’s willingness to join the BJP came within some  weeks of the saffron party calling him a key suspect in the Louis Berger scam. Only God and Amit Shah can now confirm what has been promised to Sarma. But that has not dampened the former state minister’s enthusiasm. He also already roped in nine sitting Congress legislators to the BJP. 

On the face of it, this also could appear a case of India Shining when the BJP faced defeat in the 2004 parliamentary polls. But in reality many dedicated BJP workers are not happy as these former Congressmen could bargain for tickets.

It goes without saying that the internal sabotage is still being attributed as one of the major reasons for the BJP’s defeat both in 2004 and, more recently, in Bihar. Among the existing BJP leaders, Sarbanand Sonowal is a prominent face but he, too, is a former AGP man. Moreover, Prodyut Bora has already walked out of the BJP while loyalists of Union minister Sonowal are at cross purposes with new BJP state unit chief Siddhartha Bhattacharya.
Will BJP's gamble with Himanta work?

The saffron party has, moreover, already faced criticism – and in the coming days this can only intensify — as the BJP has made a certain U turn on tricky issues like big dams, land boundary pacts with Bangladesh and deportation of illegal Bangladeshi nationals.

The BJP may also have tie-ups with tribal organisations like the Bodoland People’s Front but the party’s past experiences in pre-poll alliances in the state has been bitter. This offers a tremendous advantage to Tarun Gogoi. The Congress high command still backs him but he needs to win over parties like the  AGP and the AIDUF to counter the BJP.

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