Why did the Congress lose in Assam?

Assam Election Results 2016

Assam Election Results 2016

It took 15 long years for anti-incumbency to finally catch up with Tarun Gogoi and his party. But that is not the big news, it’s the fact that Tarun Gogoi lost to a BJP-led alliance that’s making the headlines.

BJP didn’t have much of a footprint in Assam where Tarun Gogoi’s personal leadership dominated state politics. But that was till Himanta Biswa Sarma, a longtime associate of Tarun Gogoi and former Education Minister, decided to break away from the Congress and join BJP.

It was this one single move that proved to be Tarun Gogoi’s nemesis. Make no mistake, Tarun Gogoi continues to remain the most favoured candidate for the CM’s post, across parties, much like Nitish Kumar was in Bihar. But it was Sarma’s crossing over with his flock of supporters that proved too much for the Congress.

It was Sarma who scripted the strategy and worked with alliance partners, Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), along with other tribal parties, to come together to dislodge the Congress and it worked.

Although BJP had announced Sarbananda Sonowal as the CM candidate, it was really Sarma who worked the grassroots strategy for a win. On the other hand, Tarun Gogoi made the mistake of underestimating Sarma’s ability to craft a win for the BJP, given that he had earlier lost his seat in a previous election.

Another area where Tarun Gogoi erred was in over reading possible dissension within local BJP ranks on the choice of alliance partners, and the fact that the party had to give in to both Sarma and alliance partners’ demand for tickets. Gogoi continued to remain defiant and confident of yet another term in office.

One of the most sensitive issues in these elections has been the problem of Bangladeshi migrants over the years and the resulting demographic imbalance impacting election outcomes. The BJP took a gamble in making it clear that they would not go with Badruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF, which enjoys wide support from the Muslim community, and also in taking a tough stand against the cutoff date for determining illegal migrants.

The final poll outcome confirms that a vast majority of non-Muslim locals, across party lines, have supported the BJP’s position rather than go with the Congress line.

With the BJP now set firmly in Assam, its impact will be felt in other Congress-ruled states of Manipur, Mizoram and Meghalaya. All have significant Christian and tribal communities which have traditionally supported the Congress, but if the BJP plays a fair card for them in Assam, it is possible the BJP would have gained more than a foothold in the North East. This is way more than what Tarun Gogoi would have bargained for in the run up to these elections.


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