ASSAM POLL 2016 - NRC MAY BE THE GAME CHANGER IN THE SECOND PHASE
A huge turnout of 82.20 per cent in the first phase of polling on April 4 in Assam has baffled poll watchers and triggered speculations if it has signalled the much hyped “change” in the Congress-ruled state.
Both the major players --the ruling Congress and the three party alliance of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) claimed to have secured the lion’s share of the people’s mandate in the first phase of polling.
The BJP claimed that the high turnout indicated that the people had voted for “change” to end the Congress rule while the Congress claimed that the people had cast their votes to extend their support to the “changes” brought in different spheres by the Congress government over the past 15 years.
Such claims and counter claims have put the spotlight on the second and the final phase of polling scheduled for April 11 in remaining 61 seats.
The Congress is now desperate to strike at the bastion of Maulana Badruddin Ajmal-led All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) in lower and central Assam in a bid to retain power for the fourth consecutive term. The AIUDF has high stakes in the second phase and 17 of the 18 seats won by the party in 2011 assembly polls came from these 61 seats. The Congress won 24 seats, BPF- 9, AGP- 5, BJP-3, Independents -2 and Trinamool Congress- 1.
The Congress hopes that the National Register of Citizens, currently being updated, will be the game changer and it will help the ruling party to get the required number by regaining the support base among the Muslim voters of erstwhile East Bengal origin which had it lost to the AIUDF in 2006 assembly polls.
Maulana Ajmal floated the AIUDF in 2005 after the Supreme Court struck down the erstwhile Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act, 1983 by playing upon the perceived apprehension that absence of a legal protection would leave them vulnerable to possible harassment in the name of detection and expulsion of foreigners (read as Bangladeshis entering Assam without valid travel documents and staying illegally in the state). Ajmal’s aggressive campaign among the Muslims voters of erstwhile East Bengal origin that the Congress had used the erstwhile IM(DT) act only as a political weapon to keep them in fear and use them as vote bank, helped it cause heavy erosion in the traditional Congress strong hold among these voters.
Incumbent Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and his party promised these voters that Congress government would not allow any genuine Indian citizen to be harassed but it failed to convince them and they pledged their loyalty to AIUDF. The ruling party hopes that that the political situation has changed now as the process of updating the NRC has removed the fear and these voters are now convinced that an updated NRC would insulate them from undue harassment and therefore it is most likely that these voters might not need a political force like the AIUDF to protect them from harassment in the name of identification of “illegal Bangladeshi migrants.” Congress spin doctors have also articulated the campaign that these voters are now looking for bigger party which would be able to insulate them from Sangh parivar’s “Hindutva agenda.”
Political observers say that the BJP making a poll promise that Hindu Bangladeshis would be treated as refugees and they would be given Indian citizenship once the party gets majority in the Rajya Sabha but Muslim Bangladeshi migrants would be sent back to the neighbouring country, is likely to polarise the votes on religious lines.
In bid to fuel fresh hopes of AIUDF getting a share of the power pie this time, Maulana Ajmal has been making claim that no party would be able to form the government at Dispur without AIUDF’s support.
The Congress hopes that its ally United People’s Party (UPP) led by former Rajya Sabha member Urkhao Gwra Brahma will put the spanner in the BPF’s wheels to shatter the BJP ally’s dream to become the kingmaker and the BJP Chief Ministerial candidate Sarbananda Sonowal’s dream to wear the crown. The Congress has extended support to the UPP in four of the 12 seats in Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD) and fielded its own candidates in the remaining eight seats. In 2011, the BPF won all the 12 seats in BTAD. In this election, the UPP and the Congress hope to wrest some seats from the BPF but the BPF Chief Hagrama Mahilary is confident that the BJP-AGP-BPF will form the next government in the state.
Stakes are very high for all the key players in the second phase and all stakeholders will have to keep their fingers crossed till the votes in the Electronic Voting Machines are retrieved and counted on May 19 to find out as to who is going to have last laugh.