The Assam Story and the Importance of Being Himanta

Jyotirmoy Prodhani

As anticipated, following massive turn-around of the Mahajot (the conglomeration of Congress and AIUDF), hyped as the game changer, turned out to be a damp squib. In terms of mathematics though, Mahajot was a clean winner. In the last elections in 2016 the vote share of the political parties gave Congress a smart clue. That the BJP-AGP alliance got 41.49% (BJP: 29.41, AGP: 8.14 and BPF: 3.94) whereas Congress had polled 30.96% and AIUDF had polled  13.05%. The combined vote share of Congress and AIUDF was 44.01% against BJP alliance’s 41.49%. The simple calculation was that if the Congress and AIUDF could come together, with additional vote share of BPF’s 3.94, it would be an unbeatable sweep. But the reality check for the Congress-AIUDF alliance turned out to be quite the contrary. They found themselves nowhere near the striking distance to form the government, of which they were so sure that they had even virtually kept holding mock cabinets in various five star hotels and luxury resorts in the run up to the election counting day. They were so confident and tense about their win that they started suspecting their own candidates as prospective incumbents vulnerable enough to bite the lure to be doled out by the BJP to affect shift of their loyalty in no time. Of course, there is a great relief for the Mahajot now that they no longer have the anxiety to keep flocking their horses in a luxury stable and keep footing the humongous bills.

Assam election is a single story- Himanta Biswa Sarma. He had almost single-handedly pulled off the show, which he began much earlier by carrying out massive cycle rallies and road shows across the state connecting with the masses and especially with the youths. None of the leaders across the political spectrum was a match to him, including even the national leaders from both the BJP and the Congress camps. When he was in Congress, no matter what would happen elsewhere, Assam would remain as the fortified Congress bastion. In that Tarun Gogoi had a great role to play though, but on the ground, Himanta was the Man Friday, the most trusted trouble shooter. His fallout with Tarun Gogoi, following the entry of Gaurav Gogoi in the scene as the heir apparent of Tarun Gogoi, had led to the subsequent downfall of the Congress. As Himanta deserted the party through a grand show of strength, Congress in Assam was in the downslide. Himanta had launched his political career under Hiteswar Saikia, one of the most powerful Congress Chief Ministers, as his political mentor in the early ‘90s. When he had decided to shift his allegiance to BJP about twenty years later, the party was not a serious force to reckon with in the state though Modi had come to power in the centre already. People were skeptical about the prospect of BJP at all emerging as a serious political contender which was having some support base in some of the peripheral quarters in the Barak valley and lower Assam, namely places like Silchar, Golakganj etc. and in some other places. As Himanta finally migrated to BJP, fifteen years long rule of Congress came to an end, and for the first time, BJP formed the government in Assam as well. Soon, under his leadership, as the head of NEDA, (North East Democratic Alliance) he helped BJP be part of the governments with regional parties in several states of the Northeast, where, earlier, it was even unthinkable.

              This election in 2021 BJP had challenges from several fronts, particularly from the Congress-AIUDF (All India United Democratic Forum) led Mahajot as they almost successfully managed to consolidate the Muslim votes pre-empting their vote split. Congress has been traditionally dependent on the Muslim votes, particularly the immigrant settler Muslims of East Bengal origin. But with the rise of the AIUDF, the settler Muslims have shifted their loyalty from the Congress to Maulana Badaruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF. This time, however, the Congress-AIUDF alliance showed impressive results in lower Assam, especially in Barpeta, Goalpara, Bongaigaon, Dhubri and South Salmara districts where, notably, only the Muslim candidates of the alliances clinched victory barring the two reserved seats of Dudhnoi and Abhayapuri South which are ST and SC reserved seats respectively and few odd seats like Bongaigoan, Patacharkuchi etc. Out of the 20 (twenty) open seats in lower Assam (outside BTR) 16 of the seats have been won by the Muslim candidates, i.e. 80% of the seats have gone to the Muslim candidates, primarily to the settler Muslim candidates.  In this the Congress-AIUDF alliance has been a resounding success achieving the actual target and agenda of Maulana Ajmal, ensuring political representation of and power to the settler Muslim candidates at the cost of other native and indigenous communities. Notably, out of the 45 odd seats won by Congress and AIUDF (29 and 16 respectively) about 29 of the seats (64.44%) have gone to the Muslim candidates, the majority of who are settler Muslims.

            Ironically, the winning streak of the Mahajot in lower Assam did not replicate in other parts of the state where most of the non-Muslim candidates of the alliance, mainly of the Congress, were in for big drubbing including, the stalwarts like the APCC chairman himself, Ripun Bora. Significantly, the alliance primarily helped the winning of the Muslim candidates and the non-Muslim candidates, who had expected the Muslim votes en bloc in their favour, faced terrible trouncing. The Mahajot has proved the worst speculations of the native Assamese to be true, that it only aimed at giving greater representation to the settler Muslims rather than ensuring a pluralistic electoral possibility that would include the non-Muslim ethnic entities as well. Himanta Biswa Sarma had cashed in on this apprehension of the native electorates and had alerted them about the possibility of the settler Muslims capturing political power of the state to subsequently posing a serious threat to the cultural and civilizations identity of the land. This narrative drew traction in the rest of Assam overshadowing all other rhetoric and sentiments, including even the vociferous anti CAA planks which was considered by many as the infallible amulet to drive out the BJP from the state. In fact, the major protagonists of the anti-CAA movement, Lurin Jyoti Gogoi, had to bite the dust along with all the heavy weighs he had fielded from his newly formed political party, Asom Jatiyo Parishad, expecting a land slide. The massive upsurge of support to the anti-CAA showdown did not translate into votes as the party drew a blank without winning a single seat, including Lurin Jyoti Gogoi’s two seats of Naharkatia and Duliajan.

            In this election, like the earlier ones, Himanta Biswa Sarma has emerged as the Numero uno, the super hero for his party not only for Assam but also for the whole country, as he could save the face of the top leadership of his party by winning this major state, whereas in rest of the country, in the four other states where elections were held simultaneously, BJP had to face dramatic devastations, especially in West Bengal.

            When Mamata Banerjee is celebrated as the power woman, the lioness wresting her pound of chunk from the mouth of the dreaded opponents, Himanta is definitely the man of the moment to have redefined what invincibility is all about. And of course, in this election, another hero has emerged- Akhil Gogoi. He had fought the elections from jail, where he was forced to languish on trumped up charges. With his ageing mother hitting the ground seeking votes and support for her incarcerated son, massive support grew for him among the electorates of Sivsagar and prayers for him by many from rest of Assam. Akhil Gogoi has turned out to be the Che Guevera of Assam, an audacious symbol of anti-establishment voice inspiring the popular imagination.

            It would be an event to watch out for when the two formidable leaders, Himanta and Akhil, best debaters from their Cotton College days, begin the face off on the floor of Assam assembly.

Views are personal.

(Jyotirmoy Prodhani is a writer and commentator. He teaches at NEHU, Shillong, and can be reached at rajaprodhani@gmail.com)   

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s