After Bihar, BJP now eyes Assam

GUWAHATI: The opinion polls may be divided on Bihar, but that does not deter Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah from setting their sights on Assam to form BJP’s first government in the state.

BJP, which won seven of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in the state last year, is hopeful of victory in Assam when it goes to the polls next spring.

On Friday, nine dissident Congress MLAs joined BJP, following in the footsteps of Himanta Biswa Sarma, a former key minister in the Tarun Gogoi-led government, who crossed over to the saffron party in August this year.

Besides, BJP, which has already recruited SULFA (surrendered Ulfa) cadres, has embraced leaders from AGP and various student organizations, including Aasu.

BJP national general secretary and in-charge of Assam Ram Madhav, who attended the joining ceremony of the nine rebel Congress MLAs, said, “Assam’s political scenario is changing and people are looking at BJP as a viable alternative to Congress. We are going to win the 2016 election and form the government.”

BJP may also have tie-ups with tribal organizations to unseat Congress, which has been in power since 2001. The disbanded Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT), which has transformed into a political outfit Bodoland Peoples’ Front (BPF), has already severed its two-term alliance with Congress and is the most likely to partner with BJP.

Past experiences in pre-poll alliances in the state has been bitter for the saffron party. In 2001, the first BJP-Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) pre-poll alliance resulted in a disaster as the partnership managed just 28 seats and brought back Congress to power by dethroning AGP.

BJP’s last alliance with AGP was in 2009 Lok Sabha election, which too ended in a fiasco.

In the last 2011 assembly election, BJP won just five of the 120 seats it had contested with a vote share of 11.47%. Congress won with an absolute majority getting 78 of the 126 seats with a vote share of 39.39%. The figures changed dramatically in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections when BJP’s vote share went up to 36.86%, while that of Congress dipped to 29.9%.

State BJP spokesman Siladitya Dev said, “Early next year, Assam, Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal will go to the polls together and of these Assam is our best hope.”

But, the one key factor that continues to haunt BJP for long is the absence of a face that is acceptable to a majority of the estimated three crore electorate in the state. The only plausible option with BJP is minister of state for sports Sarbananda Sonowal. A former Aasu president, Sonowal shot into the limelight and was declared a ‘national hero’ by the people of the state after he successfully fought a legal battle in the Supreme Court and got the controversial IM (DT) Act scrapped.