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The Assam Assembly Election Will Be No Cakewalk For The BJP This Time Around

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From the Controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, leaders exiting their parties, some personal attacks to Electronic Voting Machines (EVM’s), manhandling, the people of Assam witnessed it all during the three-phased Assembly Elections, which commenced on 27 April and concluded on 6 April, 2021.

The intense battle for 126-member Assembly constituencies started in early February when the national leaders of the BJP and Congress started visiting the poll-bound state. The election campaign was all about launching scathing attacks on each other.

Sarma, Priyanka and Gogoi
Himanta Sarma, Priyanka Gandhi and Akhil Gogoi.

On the one hand, the principal opposition Congress Party chose to make the draconian CAA, which is considered a sentiment in Assam, their election agenda, while on the other hand, the BJP leadership took shots at the Congress alliance with Badruddin Ajmal led All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF). Things got intense when Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal termed the Congreed-led Mahajot as “unholy”.

Talking about regional parties, Lurinjyoti Gogoi led Assam Jatiya Parishad and Akhil Gogoi Raijor Dal cashed on the anti-CAA sentiment. The State of Assam witnessed huge protests during the anti-CAA protests, which led to the birth of these two regional parties. Hence, they have made a mark among the people who opposed the CAA.

The BJP leaders, however, never mentioned them in their election rallies as their major targets were Congress and AIUDF.

However, what stole the limelight during the election campaign was Congress’ “five guarantees” to the people of the state, which include five lakh Government jobs in 5 years, steps to scrap the CAA, free electricity up to 200 units for all households, ₹2,000 per month to all homemakers and enhancing the daily wage of tea garden workers from ₹167 at present to ₹365.

Amidst all the active campaign from the Congress’ side, news that could have gone wrong was the exit of the All India Mahila Congress President, Sushmita Dev.

There were media reports of her exit from the party as she was not happy with Congress-AIUDF seat-sharing agreement in the Barak Valley, which is an important region for the party. All said and done, Dev came back with a bang and started her campaign in different parts of Assam.

Meanwhile, to counter Congress’ five guarantees and “Assam Bachao Bus Yatra”, the BJP pushed possibly every national leader to do extensive campaigning in Assam, from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Minister Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP National President JP Nadda, Union Minister Smiriti Irani, Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, etc.

However, what remains the same in their election speeches, the attack on the Congress-AIUDF alliance and how Baddrudin Ajmal was a threat to Assam’s culture and identity. The BJP aggressively emphasised how the Saffron Party is the only one that can save the indigenous Assamese from illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, Congress and Ajmal.

Also, it seems the BJP has a base for themselves where all their strategies seem to work among the people of Assam. The people in the elections rallies of PM Modi, Amit Shah, are living proof of that. At the same time, Himanta Biswa Sarma saw another kind of craze for him among the public.

BJP Rally In Assam
BJP rally in Assam. (Photo by David Talukdar/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

As per the last Assembly Elections, the state witnessed the constant flow of the usual star campaigners from the two major parties — the BJP and Congress — arriving from Delhi in chartered flights to join state-level leaders to hold mega rallies and claimed to win more than 100 seats, respectively and taking constant digs at each other.

Talking about opinion polls, in January, the IANS C-Voter “Battle for the States” survey stated that the ruling BJP would win 77 seats out of the total 126 seats of Assam Assembly seats. It had predicted around 40 seats to the Congress-led Grand-Alliance. In the last weeks of February, the ABP C-Voter opinion predicted 68–76 seats for the NDA while it gave Congress around 43–51 seats.

However, in a major turn of events, the latest assessment of public sentiment by Times Now-C Voter anticipated BJP’s win in Assam with a meagre edge over Congress. According to the survey, the BJP may get 67 seats, while Congress may win 57, a little short of the majority mark.

The credit for the sudden rise of Congress goes to the aggressive campaigning by leaders like Assam Pradesh Congress Committee President Ripun Bora, MP Gourav Gogoi, Rakibul Hussain, Pradyut Borodoloi, Debabrata Saikia and Sushmita Dev. However, AICC General Secretary, in charge of Assam, Jitendra Singh, is considered the driving force behind the Congress’ campaign.

The BJP’s win in the 2016 Assam Assembly Election was remarkable. However, this time the saffron brigade seems a bit tense, courtesy to the Congress-led Grand-Alliance. One can see the party’s nervousness when Assam Finance Minister Sarma himself said that Ajmal’s AIUDF would be a factor in the Assam Assembly Elections.

The reason behind BJP launching an attack on Ajmal left, right and centre is that the AIUDF President claimed to have control over almost 34% of Assam’s Muslim population, particularly the Bengali speaking ones of lower Assam who are tilting towards the AIUDF. That is the main reason that the saffron party is concerned.

Following the campaign, former Congress President Rahul Gandhi and AICC General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi also visited the State several times to boost the campaign. From visiting the Kamakhya Temple to tea garden workers, the sibling duo of the Grand Old Party did it all.

From the Gamosa politics to Jati, Mati, Bheti, the BJP also made their presence felt. However, this is one the first time when the party is contesting the elections without any Chief Ministerial candidate, which also led to speculations that who will ultimately sit on the throne if voted to power —incumbent CM Sarbananda Sonowal or Himanata Biswa Sarma, who has almost established himself as a cult figure with a huge chunk of supporters.

nrc protest assam
The NRC is a controversial subject in Assam.

Controversies that sparked outrage as elections in other states, Assam too witnessed few political controversies which sparked outrage among the leaders.

  1. In a major setback to the Congress-led Mahajot, the BPF fielded candidate, Rangja Khungur Basumatary from the Tamulpur constituency, left the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) before the third phase of polling in Assam.
  2. Assam Congress had to complain to the Election Commission against Sarma for allegedly threatening BPF President Hagrama Mohilary. Sarma was accused of saying that the NIA would implicate Mohilary and send him to jail. The Congress stressed that it was an attempt to influence the voters against voting for the Mahajot by “unconstitutional means”.
  3. The Congress party heavily criticised the Election Commission for reducing the ban of BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma from 48 hours to 24 hours, terming it as a “black day for democracy”.
  4. A war of words has erupted between the Congress and BJP after a video surfaced on social media purportedly showing an EVM being found in a BJP candidate’s car in Patharkandi constituency following the second round of polling in Assam.
  5. The EC had to order repolls at the Ratabari Assembly seat of Assam after reports emerged that an EVM was being transported in a private vehicle belonging to a BJP candidate. Acknowledging that there was a “violation of transport protocol”, the EC, in a statement, said that it had issued a show-cause notice to the presiding officer and also suspended him along with three other officers for the lapse.
  6. Two tea garden photos have triggered a controversy in Assam. Sarma claimed the Congress was using photos from Taiwan on its Assam campaign page.

All said and done, the Assam Assembly Elections results will be out on 2 May. It will be interesting to see who will have the last laugh and which party will witness the great loss.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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