In 2021 Assam Elections, Has the RSS Been ‘Sidelined’ by the BJP?

Four legislators with an RSS background have been dropped from BJP’s final list of candidates for the Assam polls. 

4 min read
Image of the BJP & RSS’s symbols and the Assam map used for representational purposes. 

Speculation is rife in Assam within some political circles, that the RSS has been given a raw deal in the selection of candidates for the 92 seats that the BJP is contesting out of a total of 126, in the 2021 assembly polls.

Four legislators with an RSS background — Ashok Sarma, Dilip Kumar Paul, Shiladitya Dev and Mission Ranjan Das — have been dropped from BJP’s final list of candidates for the polls. They were part of the 11 sitting MLAs who were denied tickets by the selection committee, as their chances of winning were considered to be slim.

In particular, Paul’s rejection has raised eyebrows since the prospects of his winning from Silchar were considered to be high. He was known for his opposition to the illegal business syndicates in Barak Valley, which had been a subject of controversy at regular intervals. He was so upset after being dropped that he decided to contest as an independent candidate which led to his expulsion from the BJP for 6 years.

Assam Polls: What RSS & BJP Workers Have to Say on Final List of Candidates

So far, 22 functionaries have been expelled last month from the BJP, for their decisions to contest on their own after being denied tickets.

Then, there were supposedly 8 aspirants backed by the RSS who failed to enroll their names in the final list of contesting candidates. Some names that were doing the rounds include Jagadish Dutta, Ritubaran Sarma, Santanu Pujari, Nabadip Kalita, Santanu Bharali, Rupam Goswami and Simanta Das.

The number of sitting legislators with an RSS background and candidates supported by the organisation who were rejected is small, but the situation stands in sharp contrast to that of 2016 and previous assembly elections, when almost all the people nominated by the organisation were able to grab tickets for contesting elections.

So, what went wrong in 2021?

Different opinions have been articulated by RSS and BJP workers on the final list of contesting candidates in Assam. A senior RSS functionary claimed that there were two views within the organisation after the list was announced. A section of workers was certainly upset following the rejection of the people that the RSS had supported.   Another group was of the view that eligible candidates would have to be nominated in the future whose credentials would not be doubted by the selectors.

On the other hand, some BJP functionaries — that this correspondent spoke to — were unequivocal in asserting that ‘winnability’ was the sole criterion taken into consideration while compiling the final list.


Did BJP Select Candidates in Assam Solely Based on ‘Winnability’?

An office bearer of the party cited several examples to disprove that RSS had been sidelined in Assam.

He told The Quint on the condition of anonymity:

“Firstly, many candidates proposed by Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal could not make it to the list, which means that the selection process was stringent and unbiased. Secondly, Shiladitya Dev was rejected, but the candidate chosen for Hojai is also an RSS worker. Then, then there are many cases of RSS workers such as Aswini Sarkar from Golakganj, Biswajit Phukan from Sarupathar and Anil Saikia from Samaguri who were in the final list of candidates.”

He also hinted at the ‘survey reports’ in Assam, completed months in advance, that were taken into account by the central election committee to assess the ‘winnability’ of the candidates. One of the surveys was apparently carried out by a private firm with the assistance of university students in the state who were never told that it was being done for the BJP.

The selection of candidates goes through a long process in the BJP that begins with a meeting of the state coordination committee of the BJP and RSS that has representatives from the central wings as well. A list of probable candidates is compiled for each constituency, which is sent to the central election committee.   There were about 25 constituencies in Assam where single names were proposed, like Jalukabari in Guwahati represented by Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.


Who Called the Shots on BJP’s Final List in Assam?

Sources claimed that the results of the surveys played a decisive role in influencing the decision of the committee in at least 15 constituencies, which coincided with the eleven sitting MLAs who were dropped.

There were rumours as well among some sections in the twin organisations, that Home Minister Amit Shah and Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had the final say in many seats where there were contesting claims.

Not Just RSS, Here are the Other Factors that Led to Rise of BJP in Assam

In Assam, the RSS had a key role in BJP’s ascending trajectory, but there were other factors as well, such as the anti-incumbency against the Congress regime and the decline of the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP). In the '90s, when the BJP was at a nascent stage, much of the party’s groundwork was done by RSS workers. A turning point came when several leaders from the Congress and AGP decided to join the party ahead of the previous assembly polls in the state. Most of them joined BJP on their own volition, and certainly weren’t cherry-picked by the RSS.

(Rajeev Bhattacharyya is a senior journalist in Guwahati. He tweets @rajkbhat. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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