Everything you need to know about Assam’s upcoming elections

Congress, BJP, AGP and AIUDF are battling for supremacy in Assam.

BySourodipto Sanyal
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Everything you need to know about Assam’s upcoming elections
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It has 14 MPs representing the country in the Indian Parliament (which is seven more than the state of Delhi) and a population of more than 26 million people. It’s also going to have assembly elections in less than 10 days, but despite all this, Assam has barely made an appearance in mainstream media, barring this rather colourful report on NDTV about the literal song and dance about elections in the state. Especially when you consider the coverage that Delhi got during its state elections last year, the silence on Assam is deafening. Hardly any opinion polls have been held by any of the TV media channels. Only India TV has done an opinion poll on it, which makes the Assam legislative assembly elections one of those rare instances in which the channel deserves an applause for all the right reasons.

The biggest issue in Assam is the status of Bangladeshi immigrants. Assam and Bangladesh share a 262-km border and undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh have long been a political issue in the state. Earlier this year, union home minister Rajnath Singh promised to complete by the end of 2016 a barbed wire fence that is supposed to be constructed along the porous border. For decades, there’s been an anxiety in Assam about undocumented Bangladeshi immigrants being slyly included in electoral rolls by political parties eager to secure votes. There is an ongoing process to identify illegal Bangladeshi immigrants with the National Register of Citizens being updated. People who have crossed the border after midnight of 24 March, 1971 will be excluded from the voter list. A generation of refugees originally from what was known as East Pakistan could possibly be deported to Bangladesh.

Assam is seeing a pitched battle between Congress, which has been the dominant party for decades, and Bharatiya Janata Party, which has tied up with Asom Gana Parishad and hopes to make its presence felt this time. BJP chief Amit Shah recently promised that if voted to power, the party would stop illegal immigration into Assam. Congress, as always, is the “secular” force and All India United Democratic Front is unapologetic about representing Muslim interests.  So much political diversity in one state and yet our news media seems largely disinterested.

Newslaundry tells you what you need to know about the major political parties that are wooing Assam’s voters.

Indian National Congress

The Indian National Congress has been in power in the state for the past 15 years. They won 78 seats in the last assembly elections held in 2011. Since 1952, when the first state elections were held in Assam, the Congress has managed to form the government on all occasions barring two. The current Chief Minister is Tarun Gogoi, who will finish his third term in June this year.

Congress released its election manifesto only on March 24. Better late than never, perhaps. It looks very ambitious on paper. The party has promised to classify families whose annual income is less than Rs 2.5 lakh as “poor” and give benefits accordingly. Gogoi also claimed while releasing the manifesto that if voted to power, his government would provide10 lakh jobs in the next five years. This year, Congress leaders have emphasized that the party has worked towards developing infrastructure in the state. It has also painted itself as the party protecting Assam’s interests in the state and accused the BJP-led government at the centre of halting schemes for Assam.

Bharatiya Janata Party

Bharatiya Janata Party has never come to power in Assam. Interestingly, they won only 5 seats in the 2011 assembly elections, which is less than the 10 seats they won in 2006 and 1991. Those were their best performances in the state yet. Riding on the back of the “Modi wave” in 2014, they won 7 of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in the general elections. This was their best ever performance in Assam. That impressive performance has made other local players take them seriously. According to the IndiaTV opinion poll, the BJP-led alliance (which includes Asom Gana Parishad and Bodo People’s Front) is set to secure 57 seats, falling 7 short of majority.

Sarbananda Sonowal, the current Union Minister for Sports and Youth Affairs was named BJP’s chief ministerial candidate in January, 2016.

Instead of releasing a manifesto, the BJP today morning released what it calls a “Vision Document”. They did this during the Bihar elections last year as well. It has promised a crackdown on Bangladeshi infiltration. In December, 2015 they had also launched an initiative called “Assam Nirman”. The central problem according to the “Assam Nirman” is cultural — “How can Assam preserve its culture and heritage against illegal migration?” — and taps into the local anxieties about undocumented migration.

Asom Gana Parishad

Asom Gana Parishad has its roots in the Assam agitation that began in 1979 and opposed the illegal infiltration of Bangladeshis into India. It is the only political party to have ever ruled the state apart from the Congress. Capitalising on the anti- Bangladeshi sentiment, AGP first came to power in 1985, lost in 1990 and returned in 1996. Since then, their presence in Assam’s legislative Assembly has been modest. In 2011, they only managed to win 10 seats in the Assembly.

The first eight points of AGP’s “Vision and Mission” on their website talk about Bangladeshi immigrants.

This year, having formed an alliance with BJP, AGP will contest in 24 of the 126 seats. AGM released its manifesto on March 18. Like with their alliance partner, the key issue in AGP’s agenda is to prevent infiltration from Bangladesh. They’ve also insisted upon deportation of those not included in the list of the National Register of Citizens.

All India United Democratic Front

Founded and currently led by Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, All India United Democratic Front aims to safeguard the interests of the Muslim community in Assam. Ajmal is also the President of State Jamiat Ulama-e-Assam and Tanzim Madaris-e Quamia. These are non-government madrasa boards that prepare the curriculum and conduct examinations throughout Assam, for more than 400 madrasas.

In the 2006 assembly elections, AIUDF won 10 seats and they improved upon this performance in the 2011 elections, when they won 18 seats. Currently, they have most number of seats in the assembly after INC. They have allied with the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Janata Dal (United), but neither party has much of a presence in Assam. AIUDF will contest in 60 out of the 126 seats in the assembly.

According to their website, AIUDF wants to “fulfill aspiration of minorities.” The party is both anti-BJP as well as anti-Congress and as per reports, it is expected that AIUDF will create a dent in the Congress party’s Muslim vote bank.

According to their website, the manifesto is “under construction.” Time will tell whether it will be constructed before the state goes to polls on April 4.

Update: This article had earlier erroneously mentioned that Congress and Asom Gana Parishad had not released manifestos. Also, the wrong image was carried as illustration in an earlier version. These have been corrected.

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