March 20, 2014

ASSAM & LOK SABHA 2014


FATAL FOUR WAY BATTLE


One of the first states that will go to the polls this year is Assam. The largest amongst the eight North-Eastern states in the country, the politics here is extremely interesting for any political analyst. There are as many as four major contenders and several other smaller players, each of which has its own pockets of influence; while they may not have big numbers, their moves can determine which way the battle swings. The Congress has been the dominant player in local politics for nearly two decades now. The Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has won three straight terms and is the tallest leader of the region. The BJP too has made inroads in several parts of the state in recent times. The kind of crowds that turned up for Modi's rally have infused confidence amongst the party cadre here. The AGP's base has corroded significantly; the party which once ruled the state is now in shambles with several members crossing over to join other parties. The AIUDF is another prominent player which draws its strength from the Muslim population. It is expected that the 14 seats in Assam are going to witness a tough four way battle. Let us take a deep dive and try to see which way the state may vote in the General Elections.

ISSUES

(1) Performance of the Tarun Gogoi government: After coming to power in 2001, Tarun Gogoi has consistently delivered for his party, both in the state and at the Centre. There is no doubt that today, he is the most popular political figure in the state as his third consecutive victory here in 2011 proves. Another advantage for the him is that his term in Dispur has largely coincided with the two UPA regimes in New Delhi. Of course, there is no doubt that his development schemes have won him the support of the masses but another factor that has worked to his advantage is the split in the opposition votes. The AGP, the BJP and the AIUDF have split the anti-Congress votes, thereby helping Gogoi tackle anti-incumbency. In fact, I prefer calling the post 2000 period in the state as the 'Gogoi Era'. The big question is whether 2014 can herald the beginning of the end of the Congress rule in Assam or will it further strengthen the grand old party here.

(2) Territorial Integrity of Assam: While its influence may have reduced greatly, the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) continues to be a threat to the security of Assam. In fact, it was one of the reasons for the Election Commission to organize the polls here in multiple phases. Besides, the state has border disputes with four of its neighbors and several people have died in related incidents. Also, there have been demands for a new state of Bodoland to be carved out of the Bodo dominant areas of Assam. Protests in favor of the new state have intensified after the UPA government gave its nod to the formation of Telangana. The Centre has constituted a committee to look into the demand. This will be an important electoral issue, especially in the areas north of the Brahmaputra. Similar demands have also been made for the autonomous hill districts in the state, namely Dima Hasao and Karbi Anglong.

(3) Illegal Migrants: Assam shares an international border with Bangladesh. Over the years, millions of illegal Bangladeshi people have settled in the state. Not so surprisingly, there have been back clashes against them by locals who feel that the foreigners are encroaching on their rights. While it may not be a burning issue at present, the BJP PM nominee Narendra Modi did raise talk about this subject in a rally in Silchar.

(4) Rahul vs Modi: Now, I have not talked about this subject in any of my previous posts in the State & Lok Sabha 2014 series. However, this issue may play a key role in the way Assamese vote in the big polls. Unlike other parts of the country, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi has a pretty good fan following here. At one of his rallies, the 'prince charming' was swarmed by women folk. On the other hand, the Gujarat CM Narendra Modi too drew huge crowds in his rallies in the state. In fact, according to some estimates about a lakh people are said to have attended one of his rallies here. It is supposedly, the biggest turnout at a political rally in the state post 1980s.

CONTENDERS

(1) Congress: After having dominated state politics for over a decade, the grand old party is in the best position in the state at present. The CM's clean image and his relatively good track record will help divert the attention from the failures of the UPA II at the Centre. Even party Vice President Rahul Gandhi has made several trips to the state, aware that the INC is set to do well here. The party has nominated Gaurav Gogoi, the CM's son from Koliabor seat. Veteran leader B K Handique who has won from Jorhat six consecutive times has been renominated.

(2) BJP: The record turnout at Narendra Modi's rally in different parts of the state has sent shock waves amongst the opposition ranks. The party which won 4 seats last time is hoping to increase its tally by at least 1 seats. Recently, two AGP leaders - former party president Chandra Mohan Patowary and former Union minister Hitendra Nath Goswami joined the saffron camp along with their supporters. The state unit President Sarbananda Sonowal also started his political career with the AGP. The outfit will be hoping to reduce the domination of the Congress in the state politics. A good show will help the BJP to aim for 15 to 20 seats in the next state polls.

(3) All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF): Led by perfume baron Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, the AIUDF played a decisive role in the outcome of the 2009 Lok Sabha polls in Assam. While Ajmal was the only candidate from the party who won, his party spoiled the Congress' prospects in as many as five seats. In the 2011 assembly polls, the AIUDF surprised everyone by finishing with 18 seats and becoming the state's primary Opposition party. The Muslim outfit is now expanding its horizon. It has fielded candidates from parts of Bengal too. An alliance with the Congress was said to be on the cards; however, the deal fell through. Meanwhile, the AIUDF may be a prospective ally for the UPA at the Centre in case it needs partners to form a third government in New Delhi considering its large base amongst the Muslims who are wary of Modi coming to power.

(4) Asom Gana Parishad (AGP): Once the most influential party in the state, the AGP is just a pale shadow of what it used to be in its prime. Born in the 1980s out of the protest against illegal Bangladeshi immigrants settling in the state, the Prafulla Kumar Mahanta led outfit seems to have lost its track as well as support from the masses. Ever since it was thrown out of power in 2001, its popularity has shrunk consistently. An alliance with the BJP in 2009 did not yield the expected results; even as the saffron outfit won four seats, the AGP got just one seat. The defection of several of its senior leaders to the BJP in the last few weeks has further damaged its electoral prospects. The 2014 General Elections will be the battle of survival for the party.

(5) Others: The Bodoland People's Front (BPF) is fighting the elections in Bodo-dominated areas of Assam in partnership with the Congress. It is a significant force in the state and has 12 members in the legislature. Former militant and party candidate Sansuma Khunggur Bwiswmuthiary will seek re-election from Kokrajhar. The Hill State Democratic Party (HSDP) which has demanded a separate state carved out of the twin hill districts of Assam can influence the polls in their stronghold. The Aam Admi Party (AAP) too has fielded candidates from a few constituencies.

PAST PERFORMANCE

The below chart shows the elections to the state legislature as well as the General Elections since 2001. The period spanning over last 13 years is, in my opinion, the 'Gogoi Era' of Assamese politics. In 2001, the INC under him dislodged the Prafulla Kumar Mahanta led AGP regime from power winning 71 seats. In the next state polls, the Congress finished at 53 and Gogoi was sworn in for a second term with the help of independents. In 2011, the incumbent CM won a handsome victory taking home 78 seats. While the Congress has dominated the political scene here, the AGP's fortunes have declined consistently. The BJP has never been able to expand its support base. The AIUDF and the BPF beat all expectations in the last elections to the state assembly. In General Elections too, the Congress won more than half of the seats.

Political Party
2011 SE
2009 GE
2006 SE
2004 GE
2001 SE
Congress
78
7
53
9
71
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
5
4
10
2
8
Asom Gana Parishad (AGP)
10
1
24
2
20
All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF)
18
1
10
-
-
Bodoland People's Front (BPF)
12
1
-
-
-
Others
3
-
29
1
26

(1) SE: State Elections (Assam legislative assembly has 126 seats).

(2) GE: General Elections (Assam sends 14 members to the Lower House of the Parliament).


MY PREDICTIONS

While Opinion polls may predict a sweep for the Congress with some expecting the grand old party to walk away with 12 or more seats, I think that it might win between 5 to 8 seats. Considering the many scams that have rattled the incumbent regime, it will be difficult to convince people to vote for them. Still, it is all set to finish with the biggest tally. The BJP may increase its figures by two seats at max. The saffron outfit will bag anything between 3 to 5 seats, banking on the NaMo wave. The AIUDF and the BPF will finish with one. Meanwhile the AGP will not get more than 2 seats.

Political Party
Expected Seats
1
Congress (INC)
5-8
2
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
3-5
3
All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF)
1
4
Bodoland People's Front (BPF)
1
5
Asom Gana Parishad (AGP)
0-2

WATCH OUT

(1) Prospective Alliances: In a multi-cornered contest like in Assam, pre-poll arrangements between parties can change the equation. After staying away from the Third Front, it was speculated that the AGP would renew its friendship with the BJP. Remember, in 2009, the party was a part of the NDA. The alliance could help consolidate the anti-Congress votes. However, the defection of several AGP leaders to the saffron camp may play spoiler. The Congress on the other hand was reportedly keen to join hands with the state’s main Opposition - the AIUDF. Their coming together could pose a big hurdle to the BJP which is hoping to break big this time around. At least for the record, both the AGP and the AIUDF have clarified that they will fight the polls alone. The BPF has already aligned with the INC for the upcoming polls.

(2) Litmus Test for Gogoi: After having led the Congress to a third straight victory in 2011, Tarun Gogoi has cemented his place as the tallest political leader in Assam. The 2014 General Elections will be a test for him. If the Congress performs well, the 'Gogoi Era' will continue; if the party fares badly, the high command will look beyond the incumbent CM in the 2016 state polls. Meanwhile, his son Gaurav has been given a party ticket from Koliabor parliamentary seat. It seems that the senior Gogoi has decided to pass on the baton to the next generation.

(3) AGP - The Fight for Survival: The upcoming polls will also decide if the AGP and its leader Prafulla Mahanta have any future in state politics. After being dislodged in 2001, the party's fortunes have plummeted. In the last legislative polls, the party could win just 10 seats, falling behind relatively newer entrants like the AIUDF and the BPF. Moreover, many of its second rung leaders and cadre have switched their loyalties to other parties, primarily the BJP. In case, the AGP fails to open its account here, which is a likely scenario, you can expect it to sink into the oblivion (Link).

For more posts in this series:
(1) Telangana & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(2) Karnataka & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(3) Rajasthan & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(4) Maharashtra & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(5) Goa & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(6) Kerala & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(7) Tripura & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(8) Haryana & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(9) Chhattisgarh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(10) Jammu Kashmir & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(11) Madhya Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(12) Bihar & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(13) Jharkhand & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(14) Sikkim & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(15) Arunachal Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(16) Nagaland & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(17) Manipur & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(18) Meghalaya & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(19) Mizoram & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(20) Delhi & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(21) Uttarakhand & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(22) Himachal Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(23) Gujarat & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(24) Punjab & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(25) Bengal & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(26) Odisha & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(27) Tamil Nadu & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(28) Andhra & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(29) Uttar Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)