Panchayat polls boost to BJP in Assam

Counting of panchayat votes near Guwahati in Assam. (Photo by Manash Das)

BJP's victory in nearly 42% seats in the three-tier Assam panchayat elections has come as a boost for the ruling party to counter the Opposition over the Citizenship bill before the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.

In the elections held on December 5 and 9 for 26,784 seats, BJP candidates won in 11,325 seats, followed by Congress with 8,970 seats, Asom Gana Parishad (1,963), AIUDF (1,319) and Independents in 2,448 seats. BJP candidates in 734 seats were declared winners un-opposed. 

Elections were held for panchayat members, panchayat presidents, Anchalik panchayats and Zila Parishads.

Assam has 14 Lok Sabha seats and BJP had bagged seven in 2014. In May 2016, BJP wrested power from the 15-year-old Congress-led government in the state but the saffron party has faced strong public protests over NDA's Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016. It seeks to offer Indian citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, who faced 'religious persecution.' 

The bill faced strong protests and bandh in major parts of Assam as indigenous people fear this would reduce them into minorities by giving citizenship to the 'illegal migrants' living in Assam.

They slammed BJP saying the bill was 'a betrayal' by the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had promised before 2014 Lok Sabha polls and 2016 Assembly elections to 'chase the infiltrators' after coming to power.

Even AGP, its ally in the state government had contested the panchayat polls separately due to its opposition to the bill. It had threatened to pull out of the coalition government if the bill is passed.

People in Hindu Bengali-dominated districts, however, want the bills to be passed in the Parliament before the Lok Sabha polls.

"The panchayat results show people in rural Assam has rejected the false propaganda spread by Congress and AGP that BJP is trying to settle foreigners in Assam. People are happy and supportive of the development work done by our governments, both at the Centre and the state. We will continue this momentum," BJP general secretary (Assam unit), Dilip Saikia said.

Parts of the state erupted in protest against the bill, ahead of the panchayat polls. BJP, however, emphasise its commitment to protect Hindu migrants saying persecuted Hindus would come to India only as it is their 'homeland.'

The opposition Congress said people had shown support to them also as it came second by winning 8,970 seats. They claimed the BJP's 'betrayal' over foreigner issue, demonitization and the 'Rafale fiasco' would act in their favour.

AIUDF, led by perfume baron Badruddin Ajmal, faced the maximum loss with the party bagging only 5% seats.

The opposition parties claim that BJP would get the 'shock' in the Lok Sabha polls over the citizenship bill but Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma claimed BJP would win in 10 of the 14 seats in the state. Sarma, who switched from Congress to BJP in August 2015, is often referred to as 'master in spinning elections' in favour of his party.

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