Assam Assembly polls: NDA-UPA poised for photo finish

GUWAHATI, April 5: Amid claims and counter claims by the incumbent and Opposition parties of securing “absolute majority” in the three-phase Assam Assembly elections, the trends emerging suggest that it is going to be a photo finish.
While all speculations and analyses would be put to rest by the afternoon of May 2, the day of counting of votes, the general perception is that the incumbent BJP-led alliance will have its task cut out, even as some sections are speculating that in western/lower Assam, Barak Valley (15 seats), the hill districts (five seats) and Bodoland Territorial Region, the Congress-led Mahajot is poised to bag the lion’s share of seats.
Some surveys and opinion polls have predicted that the BJP-led alliance would form the government in Assam albeit by a slender margin. There is also a speculation that the Congress-led UPA, which ruled the state from 2001 to 2016, will up its tally but may fall short of the magic figure of 64 seats needed in the 126-member Assam Assembly to form the government.
The Shillong Times spoke to a couple of independent political analysts to know what their take is and which alliance might have the last laugh, come May 2.
“It will be a tight situation. In the first phase, the BJP-led alliance, which traditionally enjoys an upper hand in Upper Assam, has been restricted by the Congress-led Mahajot. Then again, the tea workers’ wage hike or ST status promises have not been kept by the incumbent BJP government. Thirdly, even as the Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) will divide both the BJP and Congress votes, the Congress vote erosion however will be made up by the support (scattered) to the Left parties,” Dr Rupak Bhattacharjee, a Tinsukia district-based independent political analyst opined.
Dr Bhattacharjee further said the “BJP poll strategy of flagging Assamese “asmita” (pride) and Hindutva together did not find acceptance among the voters in Upper Assam, primarily because of a negligible percent of the minority population, where the Hindu-Muslim factor did not cut ice, unlike in lower Assam or Barak Valley districts which have a sizeable Muslim population.”
“In the second phase, the Congress-AIUDF alliance in Barak Valley will get at least 11 seats out of the 15 on offer. BJP will also face stiff resistance in Silchar, considered a stronghold. In the five seats in the hill districts of Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao also, the Congress has the edge,” he said, adding that the ticket allocation among the BJP aspirants was not well coordinated in the hierarchy.
The BJP, for its part, has been silent on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) in its poll campaigns in Assam.
“CAA is an effort by BJP to give the NRC-excluded Bengali-speaking Hindus citizenship through the backdoor. So given anti-CAA sentiments in Upper Assam (before the pandemic), the BJP adopted a passive stance on the legislation ahead of the first phase, unlike in poll-bound Bengal, where the CAA issue is working for the saffron party,” the political analyst said.
“BJP’s own assessment is that it will get 28 to 30 seats in the first phase. But I see around 22 seats going to the BJP in the first phase, about 12 seats in the second phase, while in the third phase, the saffron party will be wiped out by the Mahajot with the Ajmal-led AIUDF in its fold, because of the demography as most of the seats are Muslim-dominated,” he added.
“In the Bodoland Territorial Region, where the Congress has tied up with BPF, the open threat to BPF chief Hagrama Mohilary by an incumbent minister will have an impact on the BJP vote. Over and above, incidents like a BJP candidate threatening a journalist, EVM transportation in a vehicle owned by the wife of a BJP candidate in Barak Valley, et al might go against the incumbent party,” Dr Bhattacharjee opined.
“The BJP-led alliance, according to an assessment, will get at least 50 seats across the three phases, which I agree,” he added. On the other hand, Suresh Varma, a Dibrugarh-based independent political analyst makes a different assessment in regard to the first phase, during which, he says the Congress failed to adopt the right strategy.
“From the data collected and the ground assessment made from people, we see the NDA bagging at least 35 seats in the first phase, primarily because the UPA was not aggressive or systematic enough in its Upper Assam poll campaign with none of the state leaders campaigning in all the 47 constituencies. So much so that it did not leave a positive impression on the electorate,” Varma said.
“CAA was a big factor in Upper Assam but Congress’ pact with the Ajmal-led AIUDF negated the UPA prospects as voters perceived an influx threat in the alliance,” he said, adding, despite the tea wage issue, about 80 percent votes of the tea community (total of 10 lakh tea voters approximately) have gone in favour of the NDA.
“In second and third phases, the Mahajot will bag more seats than NDA primarily because of the demography in lower/western Assam, where many constituencies are minority dominated,” Varma said.
“The worst-case scenario from our in-depth analysis is that the NDA will bag 19 seats and UPA will bag 20 seats in the second phase. Similarly, the assessment for the third phase gives NDA a minimum of 13 seats and UPA 27 seats. To sum up, even in the worst-case scenario, NDA crosses the magic figure (simple majority) of 64,” he added.

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