The poll rhetoric between top leaders of the ruling BJP and the Congress might be getting more attention before Assembly elections in Assam, but both camps are banking heavily on their regional allies in this battle of identity politics.
This time, as the Assam elections are set for a contest between three alliances with the BJP and the Congress being “big brothers", regional parties are likely going to be the deciding factors in all three phases of polling on March 27, April 1 and April 6.
In fact, Badruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF and Hagrama Mohilary-led Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) are adding more confidence to the Congress’s target to wrest power from the BJP-led government.
“In 2016, I helped the BJP win several seats and form the government. This time, I will help the Congress and the grand alliance will form the government for sure,” Mohilary claimed in at least two rallies addressed by Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi.
The BPF, which was an ally of the BJP-led government since 2016 but was "abandoned" by the saffron party before the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) elections in December 2020, joined the grand alliance and is contesting in all 12 seats in the Bodoland region.
The BPF had won all 12 seats in 2016 and played a key role in at least six other seats having sizeable voters belonging to the Bodo community.
The Congress is contesting in 90 out of the 126 seats and has given 24 seats to AIUDF candidates and 12 to BPF. The Left parties are contesting in two seats while the Anchalik Gana Morcha, another partner of the Congress-led grand alliance, got two seats.
The AIUDF is likely to swing a lot of votes in constituencies dominated by Muslim voters. “The BJP is scared of the AIUDF. So they are targetting us repeatedly,” Ajmal said.
The grand alliance has made the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) its main poll plank by saying the same would destroy the identity and culture of indigenous Assamese people as it looks to grant citizenship to post-1971 migrants from Bangladesh.
The BJP, on the other hand, has said that this election is a fight to save the composite Assamese culture from forces like Badruddin Ajmal, who represents the Miyas (Bengali-speaking Muslims).
The BJP is banking on its new ally in the Bodoland region, the United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL), which formed the BTC along with the BJP. The UPPL, led by the former president of All Bodo Students’ Union Pramod Boro, is contesting in eight seats in the Bodoland region. The BJP is contesting in 92 Assembly seats while its ally, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), is fighting in 26 seats. The AGP had won 14 seats in 2016.
"Who is Hagrama to decide? The BTC election results suggested that the BPF is losing public support. People in Bodoland region are now with the BJP and the UPPL as we have signed a new Bodo Accord and brought peace to the region," BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma told reporters when asked about Hagrama's warning. Sarma claimed that the BJP and its allies will win more than 100 seats this time.
The third alliance between the Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) and Akhil Gogoi-led Raijor Dal (People's Party) is likely to garner the anti-CAA votes as the two parties have made the CAA as their main poll plank.
The AJP is backed by the influential All Assam Students Union, which led the anti-CAA agitation in 2019. The AASU on Wednesday again issued a call to boycott the BJP after the saffron party announced that it was committed to implementing the CAA.
The two parties refused to join the Congress-led grand alliance but Akhil Gogoi asked voters to elect non-BJP candidates. The AJP is contesting in 68 seats while Raijor Dal has fielded its candidates in only 32 seats.