Will the AIUDF bowing out of the race in all but 3 seats spell the end for the BJP in Assam?
The AIUDF’s move coupled with the lingering anger over the Citizenship Amendment Bill is hurting the saffron party’s chances in the largest state in the Northeast.
The AIUDF has announced that it will contest only three Lok Sabha seats out of 14 in Assam: Dhubri, Karimganj, and Barpeta. These constituencies were all won by the AIUDF in 2014.
The party’s chief, Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, who is the sitting parliamentarian from Dhubri will seek re-election. The party’s sitting MP from Karimganj, Radheshyam Biswas, will also seek re-election. For Barpeta, AIUDF has dropped sitting MP Sirajudin Ajmal and given the ticket to Hafiz Rafiqul Islam.
The AIUDF is currently the second largest opposition party in Assam after the Congress. Before this, it was the main opposition during the Congress-led Tarun Gogoi government. Hence, the decision to field only three candidates came as a surprise, especially since the party had earlier announced it would contest from eight seats.
According to Ajmal, this decision was taken to ensure that the “secular” votes are not split amongst different parties. The idea is to rally all anti-BJP votes in one direction.
This strategy has some merit, as in many cases, wherever there has been a three-cornered fight, it is the non-BJP parties who stand to lose.
Take, for instance, the Rajasthan Assembly elections last year, which was pitted to be a straight fight between the Congress and the BJP. Congress rebel candidates split the vote in constituencies like Dudu and Khandela. In fact, in Khandela, the Congress did not manage even second place and came a far third to the BJP and independent rebel candidate, Mahadeo Singh.
The BJP, whose position in the state of Assam has been precarious ever since the party tried to push the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), seemed visibly rattled. The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), which has been in alliance with the BJP in the state, has opposed the bill. The AGP even briefly split from the alliance over the issue.
However, the alliance is still on for the Lok Sabha election. This decision has sown seeds of discord within the AGP with senior leaders like Prafulla Mahanta openly expressing anguish and disillusionment. He stated, “We were opposed to this alliance as AGP, being a regional party, should have contested the Lok Sabha polls with the aim to strengthen the party at the grassroots for 2021 assembly polls.”
Ram Madhav, BJP general secretary and party in-charge for Northeast India, has alleged that there is an unholy nexus between the Congress and AIUDF. However, AIUDF general secretary, Aminul Islam, has rubbished such claims. “We have not approached Congress nor we have discussed anything with Congress. BJP attempted to bring Citizenship Amendment bill, it has failed to arrest unemployment besides making U-turn on land swap deal with Bangladesh. AIUDF being a secular party, it is duty bound to stop BJP,” he said.
The BJP has put up a confident front in the Northeast. Convener of BJP-floated platform of non-Congress parties, North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), Himanta Biswa Sarma, has estimated that NEDA will win around 19 to 21 seats (out of 25) in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in Northeast India.
On the ground, the situation does not seem so rosy. Two rallies on March 26, in Karimganj (where the AIUDF will contest) and Guwahati, had rows of empty chairs due to a low crowd turnout. In Karimganj, the party failed to attract voters to a rally attended by party prabhari Mahendra Singh, Assam minister Parimal Suklabadya, and Kabindra Purkayastha.
The grass-root workers of both the BJP and AGP are also upset with the decision to keep the parties in alliance for the Lok Sabha election. The rift between the party workers was made apparent on March 26 when a large number of AGP workers boycotted a joint party meeting in Kaliabor.
Sources revealed that several AGP members in Kaliabor have decided to choose NOTA rather than concede a vote to the AGP-BJP alliance. This leaves the field open for the Congress whose candidate (who is also sitting MP) for Kaliabor is former CM, Tarun Gogoi’s, son Gaurav Gogoi.
Will the BJP manage to override the after-effects of the Citizenship Amendment Bill and its rift with the AGP? As of now, the political winds seem to be blowing in the wrong direction for the saffron party.