Modi Magic has failed to work on the voters this time round
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is in power both in the Centre and Assam – the largest among the seven northeastern states in India, collectively called the Seven Sisters – is likely to lose some grounds in the elections to Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament in the world’s largest democracy.
Assam sends 14 out of the 24 representatives from the Seven Sisters to the more powerful House in India. Among the other six states, Arunachal, Manipur, Meghalaya and Tripura send two representatives each to Lok Sabha, while Mizoram and Nagaland sends one each.
Among the five states that share the border with Bangladesh, Assam is the second largest state after West Bengal, which is third largest state in India, with 42 seats in the Lok Sabha.
Voters in Assam, a state diversified in terms of ethnicities, cast their votes in three phases – on April 11, 18 and 23 – to elect 14 lawmakers to represent them in the capital.
In the 2014 general elections, riding on the country-wide “Modi Magic,” BJP did exceedingly well by doubling its tally, compared to the previous elections. Currently, out of 14 Lok Sabha seats in Assam, BJP holds seven, All India Congress three, All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) three, and an independent holds one seat.
Speaking to Dhaka Tribune, people from different segments of society in Assam gave the impression that the Modi Magic had failed to work this time round, unlike the last general polls. This time, it’s highly likely that the BJP tally will shrink to some extent – if not significantly.
They also told this correspondent that the battle for Assam has turned into a religious one, which was previously based on the cultural and linguistic heritage of the indigenous Assamese people.
Speaking to the common people, this correspondent did find them polarized in line with religion and ethnicity.
At the same time, many of them said they were optimistic about living together in peace, leaving all religious and cultural differences aside.
“It is all but certain that BJP is not going to repeat its feat of 2014 in 2019. In the last elections, people voted with high hopes. But their hopes have been shattered because they did not get what they had hoped for,” the editor of one of the largest newspapers in Assamese language told this correspondent, on condition of anonymity to avoid being seen as taking a side.
“Many issues, like demonetization, promise to create 20 million jobs every year, and ill-treatment of minorities, especially the Muslims, must have produced adverse feelings towards the ruling party,” he added.
“In Assam, about one-third of the voters are Muslims. Given BJP’s treatment of Muslims in the last five years, I won’t be surprised if no Muslims but those who are on BJP payroll vote for the party that promotes Hindu nationalism,” he added.
When asked to predict, the editor, with over 35 years of experience, said: “My understanding is that, out of 14 seats, BJP might lose one, their tally going down to six, Congress might get five seats, AIUDF two, and the independent member might retain his seat.
“If we disregard the number of seats, one thing can be said for sure: BJP will be worse off in terms of votes, compared to the previous polls,” he said.
Another senior journalist echoed the editor’s prediction.
“There is every possibility that BJP might lose one or two seats. But more so, it is most likely to lose a big chunk of votes due to its efforts to promote Hinduism. Most Hindus in Assam also do not like this,” he told Dhaka Tribune.
“Although many Muslims in Assam voted for BJP in 2014, it did not happen this time due to the elimination of so many Muslims from the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which is a contentious issue in the state,” he said.
Fazluzzaman Majumder, lawyer at the Gauhati High Court and a former journalist, pointed out that the “indigenous Assamese people” used to be vigorously opposed to the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which would allow illegal non-Muslims from the neighbouring countries to stay in India, but during the elections, they seemed to have forgotten that.
“It seems they [the indigenous Assamese people] now prefer religion over their culture and language, which were earlier at the core of their hearts. Their vigorous opposition to granting citizenship to suspected Bangladeshis irrespective of religious affiliation seems to be over. Now, their opposition is targeted towards citizenship for Muslims, not Hindus,” he added.
“I am a Hindu, so naturally I will support Hindus,” Avijit Barman, an Assamese citizen, said categorically.
Shakil Ahmed, a cab driver, said: “The only objective of the BJP government in New Delhi and Dispur, the official capital of Assam, is to harass Muslims. We really don’t know how to escape from this daily harassment.”
However, many people, like Ranjit, Nahid, Dipankar and Mukul, who spoke to Dhaka Tribune, want every citizen to be treated equally, and a situation where all efforts are made to ensure the state’s well-being, which in turn can contribute to the well-being of the country.