The 2021 Assam State elections are nearby, scheduled to be held in three phases — 27 March, 1 April and 6 April. The fight to elect 126 MLAs will primarily be between two major alliances, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). The BJP and Congress are unsurprisingly spearheading the two alliances, respectively. The counting of votes will take place on 2 May.
The BJP has formed an alliance with one of Assam’s biggest regional parties, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), and the United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL) that won the recent Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) elections.
The UPAs Mahagathbandhan or Mahajot consists mainly of the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) and the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF). The BPF is the largest single party in the Bodoland Territorial Region. They had been in an alliance with the BJP since 2016 but were snubbed by them in the recent BTC elections. The other parties in the Mahajot consist of the three Communist factions, the Anchalik Gana Morcha (AGM) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).
A third alliance born out of two parties formed after the anti-CAA protests, the United Regional Front, consists of the Assam Jatiya Parishad and the Raijor Dal. They are being led by jailed activist Akhil Gogoi, arrested in the aftermath of the anti-CAA protests and has been in jail since December 2019. Gogoi has extended his support to the Mahajot, but is apprehensive of the AIUDF.
The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was extended for another six months with the elections nearing. Although Assam has stabilised in recent years, it was home to various conflicts. With the signing of the third Bodo Accord at the beginning of 2020, the Centre expanded the BTCs power. According to the government, many organisations fighting for separate regions dropped their arms in light of the accord. The BJP has promised continued peace and prosperity in the whole of Assam.
The Orunodoi scheme that provides ₹830 per month to 22 lakh families with widows, differently-abled members, etc., is also set to be revamped to cover people from the economically weaker sections and there are plans to increase the cash transfers to ₹3,000 per month.
Amit Shah has promised an “infiltrator-free” Assam and PM Modi unveiled various development projects. Ensuring a flood-free Assam was also a part of the PMs speech. Assam Health, Finance and Education Minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, also announced various projects. He also promised free bullet bikes to youngsters. Recently, more than 22,000 girl students of Assam were given free scooties.
Amid soaring petrol and diesel prices around the country, the Assam Government reduced prices by ₹5 per litre. Liquor duty that was imposed during the lockdown was also slashed by 25%.
With Assam being an agricultural rich State, Narendra Singh Tomar in Guwahati assured people that the Centre was still open to talking to the protesting farmers.
The Congress was in power for 15 years in the State before the BJP won in 2016 as Sarbananda Sonowal became the CM of Assam. They are again vying to win back the majority in the State with the Mahajot.
Parallel to the current government’s promise of giving ₹3000 per month in the accounts of different sections of people, the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee’s president promised to give ₹7000 per month to all economically weaker families in the State if voted to power.
The Congress started their Axom Basaon Ahok (Come, let’s save Assam) campaign and made certain guarantees to the people. They promised five lakh jobs, free electricity up to 200 units per household and ₹2,000 monthly income support for homemakers (housewives).
While visiting the State, Priyanka Gandhi was most notably seen picking tea leaves with tea garden workers. The Congress has also promised to raise the daily minimum wage of tea workers to ₹365 and part of it will be supported by the government if need be.
The CAA-NRC issue is viewed differently in the North-East. While people from parts other than the North East view both the CAA and NRC negatively or positively, many people in the North East have been calling for the NRC for years now but oppose the CAA. The implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and its process first started in Assam in 2013-14. The indigenous population in Assam and other North-East states have wanted the Centre to implement the NRC to identify migrants. They fear that an influx of migrants will lead to a loss of their identity and culture.
Some of the population in Assam is seen as being outsiders or “Bengalis”. This is down to the fact that there had been an influx of migrants into the State during the British Raj and the Bangladesh Liberation War.
The government released the final draft list of citizens in 2019. 19 lakh people were deemed “foreigners” and were left off the list. This caused a massive uproar as legitimate citizens were left off the NRC list.
The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), on the other hand, is a contentious issue in the North-East as it guarantees citizenship to non-Muslims from neighbouring countries. This, in the eyes of the people of the North-East, defeats the purpose of creating the NRC. The CAA essentially provides people (other than Muslims) citizenship in case they’re left off the NRC.
While the BJP admits that the final draft of the NRC has left out legitimate citizens and plans to create a new list, they have remained quiet about the CAA. This apparent dilemma has led to apprehensions in Assam and has given fodder to the opposition. The Congress has promised to get rid of the CAA in Assam if voted to power.
But on the other side of the coin, the Congress has remained somewhat quiet about the NRC. On the national front, they opposed both the CAA and NRC but have refrained from talking about it in the North-East. The Mahajot consists of different parties that support and oppose the NRC. The Mahajot does not have a consistent stand on the issue.
Although the AIUDF has been apprehensive about the process, they want the NRC to be implemented to break the “misconception of Muslims being outsiders”. The BPF has always wanted the NRC to be implemented in the State. But the Congress’ stand on the national front has always been the opposite.
Akhil Gogoi is another figure that rose to prominence post the anti-CAA protests in Assam. He is a peasant leader and an anti-corruption and RTI activist. While he has worked towards advancing policies that help the poor and landless peasants, his staunch support for the NRC might make him lose some support. He has called for a united front against the BJP in the coming elections.
Anti-foreigner and anti-Muslim sentiments are at the forefront of the Assam elections. The BJP has openly distanced itself from a section of Muslims in Assam known as “miyas”. They are seen as “foreigners” and are grouped as Bangladeshi. Sarma has gone as far as saying, “If you identify as a Miya Muslim, don’t vote for us.”
And even though the Congress would like to present itself as a “secular” party, in a bid to defeat the BJP, they have allied with the BPF, who Muslims in the Bodo-administered region accused targetted them during the 2014 Assam ethnic violence.