Assam Election Phase 2: Congress Alliance Looks To Make Big Gains
39 seats spread across 6 sub-regions of Assam will be voting in the second phase of polling on 1 April.
The second phase of polling for the Assam Vidhan Sabha election is more like a mini Assembly poll in itself as it covers 39 seats across six different regions of the state.
These are the six regions which will vote on 1 April:
- Barak Valley: 15 seats
- Central Assam: 12 seats
- Hill districts: 5 seats
- Bodoland Territorial Council: 4 seats
- Kamrup: 2 seats
- Lower Assam: 1 seat
This makes it the most complex of all the phases of polling and includes every sub-region within Assam with the exception of Upper and North Assam, which have already voted in the first phase on 27 March.
The political battles are also different in each of these regions. Let's examine these one by one.
The biggest chunk of seats in the second phase lie in the Barak Valley, in the southern part of Assam. Bengali speaking voters are in a majority in this region, which has a sizable number of migrants from East Bengal, both Hindus and Muslims.
In a place like Silchar, the biggest city in this region, it is common to find shops and eateries named after places in East Bengal like Sylhet and Faridpur.
The BJP has traditionally been stronger among Bengali Hindu migrants, even from the days when it was a marginal player in Assam politics.
This region also has a very sizable Muslim population - 60 percent in Hailakandi district, 56 percent in Karimganj district and 37 percent in Cachar district. The Barak Valley Muslims are also predominantly Bengali speaking.
In the 2016 Assembly polls, the BJP had won eight out of 15 seats here, the All India United Democratic Front four and the Congress three.
This time, however, the equations could change with the Congress and AIUDF joining hands.
In the last election, out of the eight seats BJP won, four were due to a vote split between the Congress and AIUDF and another seat, Barkhola, due to a three way split between these two parties and an Independent candidate. This time the two parties have come together and the Independent candidate has joined them. Therefore, the alliance is fancying its chances of inflicting heavy losses on the BJP in this region.
Three seats each in Darrang, Morigaon, Nagaon and Hojai districts will be voting in the second phase of polling on 1 April. Five seats in Nagaon have already voted along with Upper Assam in the first phase of polling.
Like Barak Valley, Central Assam too has a sizable Muslim population, though it is a mix of Assamese and Bengali speakers.
Muslims account for 56 percent of the population in Nagaon district, 52 percent in Morigaon, 53 percent in Hojai and 64 percent in Darrang.
This region, too, is likely to witness a major impact of the Congress' alliance with AIUDF.
In 2016, NDA had won 9 out of 12 seats, but four of these were due to a split in votes between the Congress and AIUDF.
The NDA is likely to struggle to hold on to its seats in this area.
One seat to watch out for would be Barhampur in Nagaon district. The BJP has taken over the seat of its ally AGP, denying a ticket to former CM Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, which has created a great deal of heartburn among his supporters.
Five of the seats that vote on 1 April lie in Assam's hill districts - West and East Karbi Anglong and the huge south-central district of Dima Hasao.
Though a variety of tribal and non tribal communities live in these sparsely populated districts, there are two dominant hill tribe communities: Karbis in Karbi Anglong and Dimasas in Dima Hasao.
In the last election, the NDA had won four out of these 5 seats and Congress won one - Baithalangso in West Karbi Anglong.
The BJP is said to have a strong hold over these areas due to its control of the autonomous councils. The party is also counting on the impact of its welfare schemes as well as the entrenchment of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram and other Hindutva organisations in these areas.
The party hopes to sweep all five seats this time, while the Congress is hoping to make an impact in seats where it has relatively better presence such as Bokajan and Baithalangso in Karbi Anglong and Haflong in Dima Hasao.
Four seats in Udalguri district – that fall under the Bodoland Territorial Council – will be voting in the second phase of polling on 1 April. All four seats were won by the BJP's ally Bodoland People's Front in the 2016 elections.
However, the BPF has since switched to the Congress-led alliance especially after the BJP took control of the Bodoland Territorial Council along with BPF's rival UPPL.
In three of these seats the BPF will be up against the BJP while in one it will be up against the UPPL.
In last year’s Bodoland Territorial Council polls, the BJP-UPPL combine had performed relatively better in this part of Bodoland compared to Kokrajhar, which is the stronghold of BPF chief Hagrama Mohilary.
It remains to be seen if BPF will manage to retain its seats or whether the BJP-UPPL combine are able to make inroads.
Kamrup and Nalbari
Three of the seats voting on 1 April are right across the Brahmaputra river from Guwahati. Two of these are in Kamrup district and one in Nalbari. The NDA is dominant here and had won all three with comfortable margins last time. It is confident of repeating in 2021 as well.
The AIUDF factor is not very important here. The Congress has handed one of the seats – Kamalpur – to its ally CPI(M).
Phase two is important, as through its alliance with AIUDF and BPF, the Congress is seeking to make major gains at the NDA's expense. On the other hand, the NDA may hope to offset some of these losses through a sweep of the Hill district and Kamrup seats.
A lot would depend on whether there is a degree of communal polarisation in some seats or not.
The nature of competition is slightly different in this phase compared to the first. The Congress was pretty much on its own in phase one, though the AIUDF and BPF do have some minor pockets of influence.
The areas voting in phase two and three are, however, core territories for the alliance's arithmetic, one where they stand to make maximum gains.
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