Elections 2021

In Assam, it’s Congress’ arithmetic versus BJP’s chemistry

A M. Jigeesh New Delhi | Updated on April 01, 2021

Congress has cobbled up a grand alliance, but the BJP’s aggressive welfarism, identity politics may prove to be more than a match

The reason why opinion polls predict an “upper hand” but not a sweep for the BJP in Assam is that the ruling coalition two-pronged strategy of aggressive welfarism and identity politics catalyses the electoral chemistry in their favour, while the sheer arithmetic still favours the Congress-led opposition alliance.

The Opposition alliance is just ten seats behind the NDA in most of the surveys. What is not to be overlooked in Assam is that the combined vote share of the Congress, AUDF, Bodo People’s Front, Left parties, RJD et al is over 45 per cent. What the BJP has going for it, besides being the party in power, is that it has a formidable election machinery and an impressive record in improving delivery systems and direct cash transfers to the people.

Populist welfare schemes

So, when the BJP President JP Nadda promises expansion of the scope of Orunodoi scheme, the crown in the jewel of umbrella of welfare schemes launched by the State government for women, by providing a pension of ₹3000 to women, it is not perceived as an empty election promise.

BJP knows it benefits from populist welfare schemes and it has pressed on by promising creation of a task force to protect the places of worship of tribal people, free bicycles for girl students, mandatory registration of citizens through National Registry of Citizens (NRC), delimitation exercise to “protect political rights” and distribution of pattas to landless people are some of the other promises in the Sankalp Patra.

According to Executive Director, Rastriya Gramin Vikas Nidhi (RGVN) and economist Amiya K Sharma BJP will certainly benefit more if they bring the focus of the campaign on economic issues.

“Had the BJP raised economic and developmental issues during the campaign, it would help them more. But unfortunately, non-economic issues take centre stage during polls. Voters are more concerned about the economic development,” Sharma told BusinessLine.

Funds and resources

The key question is about the funds and resources for welfare projects promised by both the fronts. There have been promises of loan waivers in the microfinancing sector.

The plantation sector is one area where both the economic and political questions are unresolved and it haunts both the fronts. Sharma said that the tea gardens have to be run and managed professionally. “Viability is a vital question in tea estate management. Hire and fire needs to be introduced in the tea gardens if there is to be an efficient administration,” he said.

Unemployment issues

Sharma also pointed out that the socioeconomic indices prove that poor people in rural Assam are much better off now. The best bet for the present government could be the works done for the social welfare such as DBT. “But people are complaining about the increase in corruption at officer level. Another big problem is unemployment. This one of the key issue in Opposition’s agenda. Migrant workers have started going back to their workplaces. There is much to do on unemployment,” Sharma said.

Identity politics

Although the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) discourse had backfired on the BJP because the NRC excluded a large number of Bangladeshi Hindus who have become the BJP’s strongest base in Assam, the BJP has done some deft footwork in terming the anti-Muslim in the new formula of “corrected NRC” which basically is another term for Muslims whose representative metaphor is Badruddin Ajmal of the AUDF who has currently aligned with the Congress.

The BJP is simultaneously keeping the identity pot boiling by raising issues like “Love Jihad” and “Land Jihad”, a term for the impression that indigenous land is being appropriated by “outsiders”, a euphemism for Muslims who have all been labelled as “Bangladeshi infiltrators”.

Opposition’s move

The Opposition is focusing primarily on the livelihood issues. They have promised minimum wages for workers in tea estates and redressal of problems faced by migrant workers from the State. Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra are actively campaigning for the alliance in the State.

Rahul Gandhi has made five promises to the voters – the CAA shall not be allowed to be implemented, tea garden workers will get ₹365 per day, every household will get 200 units of electricity free of cost, housewives will get ₹2,000 every month and employment to five lakh people. Rahul Gandhi has also promised to restore all the incentives that were used to be given to encourage businesses, tax relief to businesses and extend all possible help to those who run small and medium size businesses like plywood business.

A big problem for the Congress is that the death of former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has created a leadership vacuum. A group of leaders such as Debabrata Saikia, Gaurav Gogoi and Ripun Bora lead the Congress now. The absence of a strong leader is an obvious problem. So, while the Congress has the math in its favour, the chemistry still works for the BJP in Assam.

Published on April 01, 2021

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