Assam Election: First Phase of Polling Could Decide Final Result
If one looks at the demographic and regional variations, it becomes clear why the first phase could prove decisive.
The first phase of polling for the Assam elections will take place on 27 March, with voters in 47 out of the state's 126 constituencies exercising their franchise on that day.
If one closely looks at the demographic and regional differences in Assam, it becomes clear that the first phase of polling may end up deciding who wins the state in the end.
Regional and Community Variations in Assam
The list of proposed administrative divisions in Assam is the most useful in understanding the regional variations in the state. The divisions are:
Assam Hills: Dima Hasao, East Karbi Anglong, and West Karbi Anglong districts
Barak Valley: Cachar, Hailakandi, and Karimganj districts
Bodoland: Baksa, Chirang, Kokrajhar and Udalguri districts
Central Assam: Hojai, Morigaon and Nagaon districts
Kamrup: Darrang, East Kamrup, Kamrup Metropolitan, Kamrup Rural, and South Kamrup districts
Lower Assam: Barpeta, Bajali, Bongaigaon, Dhubri, Goalpara, Nalbari, and South Salmara-Mankachar districts
North Assam: Biswanath, Lakhimpur, and Sonitpur districts
Upper Assam: Charaideo, Dhemaji, Dibrugarh, Golaghat, Jorhat, Majuli, Sivasagar and Tinsukia districts
In the first phase of polling, all the seats in Upper and North Assam will be voting in addition to five constituencies in central Assam all of which fall in the Nagaon district.
Assam broadly comprises the following ethnic and religious categories:
- Assamese Hindus
- Assamese Muslims
- Bengali Hindus
- Bengali Muslims
- Tea tribes
- Plain tribes (Bodo, Mising, Sonowal Cachari etc)
- Hill tribes (Karbi, Dimasa etc)
This not an exhaustive list and there are a lot of variations in terms of community within each of these groups, but this is just to give a rough idea on the major demographic categories.
BJP Polarised Two Groups and That’s Shaping This Election
The BJP's politics has polarised two numerically significant communities in the state - Bengali-speaking Hindus and Bengali-speaking Muslims. The Citizenship Amendment Act is an important issue for Bengali-speaking Hindus, many of whom are originally from what was East Pakistan. BJP was always popular among this section but the CAA may have enabled it to completely consolidate this vote bank.
On the other hand, the party's constant targeting of Bengali-speaking Muslims - both those of Sylheti origin as well as Deshi Muslims - may have compelled this section to decisively vote against the BJP. The alliance between the Congress and the AIUDF has further consolidated this section.
As a result of the consolidation of these two vote banks, the results may be already clear in areas where these two sections are numerous. For instance if one takes Hojai district that votes in the second phase of polling, the Bengali Hindu-dominated Hojai seat looks clearly leaning towards the BJP while the AIUDF is likely to win big in neigbouring Jamunamukh where Muslims are more numerous.
This pattern is likely to be replicated in Barak Valley, Lower Assam and parts of Central Assam, where Bengali-speaking voters are decisive.
Similarly, the BJP is known to have a lead in the Kamrup Metropolitan region as well as in the Hill Districts, in both of which it did extremely well in the 2016 Assembly polls and 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
All these areas will vote in the second and third phases.
This basically leaves just three regions where the outcome is less clear: Upper Assam, North Assam and Bodoland.
Two of these battleground regions will be voting in the first phase of polling on 27 March - Upper and North Assam.
Remember, in 2016, BJP had won 35 out of 47 seats that will be voting in the first phase of polling.
Upper and North Assam Could Be Decisive
Upper and North Assam has a comparatively lower population of Bengali-speaking voters and a higher concentration of ethnic Assamese voters, tea tribes and plain tribes like Misings and Sonowal Cacharis.
Ethnic Assamese voters - both Ahoms and Caste Hindu Assamese voters - were at the forefront of the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act. As a result, the NDA is facing stiff competition among this section from the Congress as well as the parties formed in the aftermath of the anti-CAA protests - the Assam Jatiya Parishad and the Raijor Dal.
This is an area it had swept in 2016 and 2019.
The party has given confused signals to this section. While Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal enjoys a great deal of credibility among Assamese voters due to his AASU background and his role in the scrapping of the IMDT Act, the party's reluctance to project him clearly has raised questions. Then there have been pro-CAA statements from BJP national president JP Nadda and state president Ranjit Dass, that could also damage the BJP in this section.
The other important vote bank in Upper and North Assam are tea tribes or the descendants of the Adivasis from Chhotanagpur brought by the British as tea garden workers.
The BJP won a overwhelming chunk of this vote in the 2016 elections and an even bigger proportion in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. But the BJP government's failure to fulfill its promise of providing Rs 351 per day wage to tea garden workers has left many dissatisfied. On the other hand, the Congress has been actively wooing this section by promising a wage rate of Rs 365 per day and with both Priyanka Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi interacting with tea garden workers during their campaign.
Three of the Congress' most prominent tea tribe leaders are in the fray in the first phase of polling - Rupjyoti Kurmi from Mariani, Durga Bhumij from Doom Dooma and Roselina Tirkey from Sarupathar.
How much the ethnic Assamese and tea tribe votes fragment or consolidate could decide the final result in Assam.
Given the higher proportion of Muslim voters in the seats voting in the second and third phases, the Congress-led alliance is likely to do better in them and needs about 20 seats from the first phase. The BJP on the other hand needs an outright sweep in the first phase of polling to offset the likely losses of the second and third phases.
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