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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 52, New Delhi, December 12, 2020

Why 2021 BTC election is crucial for the BJP in Assam | Nurul Hassan

Friday 11 December 2020

by Nurul Hassan *

The North-Western region of Assam had a long experience of volatility as demand for a separate political entity ‘Bodoland’ was partially come to an end with the agreement of Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) in 2003 entrusting four districts of Assam i.e. Kokrajhar, Chirrang, Baksha and Udalguri as Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD), a new political setting within the larger democratic framework of Indian constitution. Despite a plain area, the geopolitical space of BTAD is included in the Sixth Schedule of Indian Constitution accentuating more autonomy for the Bodos. As of now, BTAD has been enjoying all forms of developmental share from the state government, packages of Central government and most importantly autonomy is commended in different capacities. Notwithstanding the facilities, there was no conclusion in terms of their demand or satisfaction and subsequently, the BTC agreement is replaced with a new agreement for Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR) signed in January, 2020. Hence, the demand for ‘Divide Assam 50-50’ or the claim for more autonomy and sometimes sovereignty etc. are still prevalent and which require a permanent solution in the days to come.

Significance of BTC Election

The Covid-19 induced worldwide pandemic situation has propelled to reschedule the BTC election after more than six months of Governor’s rule in BTAD, Assam. This is the fourth consecutive election of BTC and which approves sustainable democracy in BTAD but muscle power or money power and pertinently power of bullets etc. are also the reverse side to be considered here. The recovery of arms and ammunition is phenomenally common in this locality. Besides, some groups indulge in spreading fear psychosis in different capacities. Even they do not hesitate to involve directly or indirectly in political murder, in creating social unrest and contributing in ethnic cleansing and so on to usurp power at any cost. The pertinent point is that most of the politicians of BTAD are basically from undemocratic background. Nevertheless, the history of BTC politics has been changing over the years. In the year 2003 a section of militants returned to the mainstream society and later on in 2005 formally contested BTC election under the banner of Bodoland Peoples Front (BPF) formerly known as Bodoland Peoples Progressive Front (BPPF) and the trend is continuing even today. Thereafter, some other political parties are coming into existence and at present and particularly the ongoing election is becoming more competitive as the BTAD had never seen ever before. Accordingly, the recently held tripartite BTR agreement carries significance with the emergence of new form of political spectrum. At present, apart from the Congress-AIUDF alliance, all the parties are contesting of their own.

Interestingly, one of the major allies of present dispensation, BPF is fighting against the BJP and accordingly UPPL, Gana Suraksha Party (GSP) of Naba Kumar Sarania etc. are also showing their strength democratically. However, the campaign of BJP is quite different as their aggressiveness and cautious but strategic approach is indicating somewhat change in the larger political domain of Assam.

Basically, the BTC election in Assam is becoming crucial for all political parties to prove their existential strength as the state is going to face Assembly election in early next year. The state politics is witnessing a new dynamism with the emergence of some regional parties and at the same time probable alliance of Congress with AIUDF and others. This time, the rainbow like alliance of BJP is not working adequately. On the other hand, the Congress is in a quandary for selecting Chief ministerial face as well as deciding on alliance with the AIUDF. The strategy of AIUDF is also indicating a new sort of politics in Assam. Considering all these, not a single political party is in a comfortable position to form the next government in Assam.

Political vacuum in BATD 

The BJP’s aggressive political campaigning construes a new equation in the politics of Assam. It is difficult to presume or assess the ongoing politics, but BJP at this juncture is considering itself as an alternative in filling the political vacuum of BTAD and at the same time winning the BTC election is essential for pervading a psychological pressure in the larger context of Assam. The aggressive campaign is one of the tactics of BJP to usurp attention of all.

With the emergence of Bodoland Peoples Front (BPF) on the eve of 2005 BTC election, a new era of democracy was started in BTAD. Since then Hagrama Mohilary has been in power for last fifteen years as the Chief Executive Member of BTC. Notable point is that, despite his non political background, he is prudent enough to lead the party from the front. For the sake of development as well as intension for wielding power, he is capable enough to manage party standing suitably. Initially, apart from BPF, there was no alternate political option for the voters. However, with the emergence of other parties i.e. People’s Coordination for Democratic Rights, UPPL, GSP, AIUDF etc.; Hagrama Mahilary has been facing multiple challenges throughout the system. The alliance politics of Hagrama is sustained for long destroying the organizational base of Congress in BTAD. But at present, Hagrama is facing horizontal pressure from local parties and at the same time BJP despite an ally is accentuating vertical pressure through its aggressive campaign exposing administrative loopholes of BPF’s 15 years rule. The BJP is strategically taking the advantages of political vacuum created at the cost of Congress. Undoubtedly, the space of BPF has been shrinking over the years and subsequently the anti incumbency would be a major factor of 2020 election.

Comparing with other political parties, the BJP is more enthusiastic about BTAD election. Most probably the blue print was prepared at the time of BTR agreement. Despite an ally of State Government, the ruling party BPF was not given leading position at the time of agreement. Whereas, ABSU with a new group of surrendered NDFB cadres were placed in driving position and subsequently the joining of the then ABSU leader Pramod Boro in UPPL has been boosting in competitive election. Interesting point is that the tripartite competition of BPF, GSP and UPPL paves the way for dominant political party like BJP. Hence, the fragile and divisive situation of BTAD provides extra mileage for BJP while others will remain in the back foot.

Accordingly, the Covid-19 situation would be a turning point for BJP as with the completion of third term of BPF, governor’s rule was imposed in BTAD to keep Hagrama Mahilary technically out of power. Besides, the election is delayed time and again. Actually, a vacuum of political administration is created for couple of months in BTAD. As a result, BJP once again is getting opportunities to strengthen its position in tribal dominated locality.

Psychological Pressure 

The BJP is successful to pervade psychological pressure throughout the system. It starts with huge gathering at election rallies to declaration of multiple schemes, election results to defection of leaders from opposition; everywhere BJP is capable to handle the situation. Even there is a balanced coordination and channelization among the party workers. The successful ending of Bihar election, would be a positive message not only for the party workers of Assam and West Bengal but for the common people too. Perhaps voters have nothing to do with the political parties but they are influenced by the political parties substantially. At present the numbers of neutral voters are abysmally shrinking as most of the people have party affiliation. Hence, assertion of membership strength is a kind of pressure not only for other political parties but for the neutral voters too. As people usually voted for that candidate or political party with high probability to win and form the government. Therefore, psychological pressure is becoming crucial in influencing all forms of politics and BJP is capable to do so.

By this election, the BJP is going to prove once again that despite the massive anti CAA protest, people approves the governance of BJP and the message would be circulated on the eve of election. Accordingly, the BJP government of Assam has no clear standing on tribal status for six communities, but tribal support is crucial for BJP to sustain in politics of Assam. The exemption of CAA in Six Scheduled administered area will make difference as BJP tries to put a sharp distinction dividing tribal and non tribal region of Assam. Furthermore, the BTC election would approve once again the pro indigenous standing of BJP on the eve of Assembly election. Undoubtedly, BJP has been distributing land Patta to the landless indigenous people of Assam.

The BTAD election would be a clear message to the common people that despite massive resistance across Assam for implementing CAA, people are accepting BJP once again. After 2019 general election, for the second time; people of Assam are standing with the BJP. Although, implementation of CAA and protection of indigenous communities, both are diametrically opposite issues in the context of Assam, but BJP is capable in handling either creating delusion or pushing the entire system into the realm of uncertainty.

The way forward

The BTC election is crucial from the BJP’s strategic point of view as the entire setting is well prepared on the eve of next Assembly election. Notable point is that despite the absence of central leadership, the BJP state unit is capable to manage the regional politics. Furthermore, it is an opportunity for BJP to strengthen its power in the midst of divisive politics of the Bodos, limited power of Hagrama Mahilary and finally the Congress has no ground in this locality. Considering all these, BJP is setting an example that despite massive anti CAA protest, people are still with the BJP, secondly, the indigenous communities across the spectrum are also supporting them and finally, the positive message would definitely have psychological pressure among the voters in coming days. Besides, winning this election, BJP is trying to secure 15-20 seats for the next Assam Assembly election.

* (Author: Nurul Hassan, PhD (GU) (nurul.hassan88[at]gmail.com) is associated with survey agency People’s Pulse)

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