Assam proved to be the main consolation for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on counting day as its alliance won a comfortable majority in the state Assembly elections.
The fightback by Congress and its allies AIUDF, BPF and Left was underwhelming as they failed to even cross 50 seats.
This article will try to answer three questions:
- What worked for the BJP and its allies?
- Where did the Congress go wrong?
- What happens next?
What Worked for the BJP?
The victory is all the more credible as the NDA government in the state faced massive protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act in 2019 but it doesn't seem to have had much of an impact politically.
The NDA ended up sweeping Upper Assam, the epicentre of the protests and the Congress and Raijor Dal-AJP alliance, which raised the CAA issue, couldn't quite get traction.
It appears that the BJP’s welfare measures, especially cash transfers under the Arunodoi scheme, have had an impact.
The BJP also seems to have succeeded in winning over smaller communities like Morans, Mising, Rabha, Deori and preventing a larger Assamese consolidation on the CAA issue.
The Assam government, especially health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, also gained praise for handling the COVID-19 crisis in the state but it is not clear if this was a factor in the NDA's victory.
What is clear, however, is that the presence of two strong regional faces like Sarbananda Sonowal and Himanta Biswa Sarma benefitted BJP greatly in the election.
Where Did the Congress Go Wrong?
In terms of vote share, the Congress alliance didn't fare badly, securing around 42 percent votes, only a few percentage points behind the NDA.
It seems that between the Congress and AIUDF, the alliance did manage to consolidate Muslim votes and some more but didn't manage to win over a sizable enough number of BJP voters.
This is evident in the alliance's decent performance in Lower Assam and Barak Valley but poor showing in Upper Assam.
It also seems that the Congress lost ground among tea tribe voters, that led to its loss in parts of Upper Assam.
To its credit, the Congress ran a competent campaign and tried to pin the BJP down on issues like unemployment and price rise. But its inability to project a strong face against the Sonowal-Himanta duo proved to be its undoing.
The outcome may have been slightly different had the Congress deployed senior leaders like Gaurav Gogoi and Pradyot Bordoloi in the electoral battlefield.
In addition to this, its ally BPF was routed in Bodoland by the BJP-UPPL combine.
What Happens Next?
The first dilemma for the BJP is regarding the chief minister's post. Will it persist with Sarbananda Sonowal or will it shift to Himanta Biswa Sarma?
There are sufficient arguments being made in favour of both candidates. While Sonowal is popular in Upper Assam and has acceptability among people with All Assam Students' Union (AASU background).
Sarma on the other hand, is more popular with BJP's core constituency of Bengali Hindu and urban voters.
For the Congress, it would mean going back to the drawing board and reconsider its choices in the state.