As the drama of Uttar Pradesh’s election season unfolds with the Samajwadi Party fiasco and BJP and BSP stealthily gearing up for the most awaited election after the 2014 Lok Sabha election, it is important for everyone to recall an election of 2016 which restored the confidence of BJP workers across the nation to work for the UP election and which redefined several dynamics of electoral analysis in a completely different way. Yes, it was the Assam election of 2016.
“Sarbananda Sonowal replaces the three decades of Tarun Gogoi ruled Congress regime and Assam goes to BJP!” much before a flabbergasted yet visibly happy Arnab Goswami announced it in Mumbai’s Lower Parel studio of Times Now on May 19, 2016 – it was crystal clear that BJP was going to form the next government in Assam. An apparent voter fatigue against the sitting Congress government-led by an octogenarian three-time CM with no enthusiasm to work for the people, a desire for change in the form of the comparatively acceptable BJP under the leadership of PM Narendra Modi at the centre and Sonowal in Assam, the crisis of identity issue vis-a-vis the illegal infiltration from Bangladesh, the prospect of a post-electoral alliance between the Congress and All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) – a party banking upon the votes of doubtful voters, led by Maulana Badruddin Ajmal and last but not the least, the exit of Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma – the most popular mass leader and performing minister of Assam, someone who played a pivotal role in bringing the Congress to power in the last elections but was severely humiliated by Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi in return. He chose to join the BJP with 9 MLAs and thousands of Congress workers, stitched an alliance of BJP, Assam Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodoland People’s Front with the support of BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav, led an electrifying campaign by single handedly addressing 250+ rallies in three weeks, ultimately sealed the fate of the Congress and heralded the dawn of BJP’s victory.
In fact, BJP gained substantially in minority-dominated constituencies and won two major seats dominated by Muslim population namely Botodrowa and Barpeta. The challenge of the present government lies in solving the undocumented immigration issue and bringing back the efficiency in the administrative machinery. However, several issues like the massive protest against the proposal of granting citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshis have signalled the end of the honeymoon period for the new government.
For the BJP, this victory has turned out to be a much needed boost to prepare for the Goliath of Indian electoral play – the UP elections – after the debacle in Delhi and Bihar. The BJP central executive, wearing ‘gamosa’ – the traditional Assamese shawl, PM Modi asking people in a rally in UP to switch on the backlight of their cellphone torches to express gratitude towards the people and party workers of Assam or the national media having its Columbus moment in the North East by giving the most extensive coverage of Assam’s elections after years of deliberate blackout, are delightful takeaways of this election.
The whole campaign, starting with Padyatras and public feedback initiatives, remained largely secular with rhetoric against undocumented Bangladeshi immigrants with apt use of social media, TV channels (including the one owned by Dr Sarma’s wife) were winners all throughout as against a seemingly clueless campaign of Congress with posters of Kanhaiya Kumar and continued attacks against PM Modi – which mattered very less to the common people for whom this election was a verdict on the 15-year-rule of Tarun Gogoi.