High anti-incumbency and attrition losses will cost the Congress dearly, but the exit of Himanta Biswa Sarma has ended the long running factional feud.
Though the Congress has lost a strategist par excellence with formidable networking skills, the infighting within the Congress has come to an end. A united fight with collective might can fetch the Congress face saving numbers. But the BJPs appeal as ‘a party with a difference’ may lose credibility if its arch rival trains its guns at the party for inducting those with a dubious past.
The BJP state unit, in the grip of factionalism since the last few months, is now embroiled in internal bickering as the newcomers are likely to turf out some of the old timers. The current BJP state chief is not known to be all-embracing and questions have been raised against his style of functioning, which only dents the party’s prospects. With the induction of Sarma’s followers into the party fold and the other student leaders with their supporters, the rebellious voices within the BJP might get noisier as the process of assimilation of ‘ideological strangers’ is not always a smooth sail. An internal survey of the BJP shows that selection of wrong candidates and brewing acrimonies could upset the party’s expectations.
The BJP will have to fight a perception battle on many fronts. There are undercurrents of growing anger on the real or perceived abdication of electoral promises by the BJP. Since Modi is a development freak, the BJP has faced relentless criticism for the discontinuation of the NEIIPP, which according to Congress sources, have stalled the state’s development plans. If Congress figures are to be believed, the NEIIPP has brought 576 small to large industrial units to Assam and Rs 12780 crores into the state. The Congress is likely to again raise the issue of withdrawal of National Mission on Food Processing which has allegedly brought an uncertain future for over hundred food processing units in the state.
Since the last few months, the chief minister has been crying foul over the withdrawal of the special category status for Assam. Congress has often leveled charges that the change in the funding pattern has derailed the state’s growth trajectory. As the state goes into poll mode, the BJP could come under blistering attacks for having thrown the state off the path of growth when Modi is breathlessly pitching for development.
Anti-BJP forces can now ridicule the Gujarat development model, with the Patidar agitation threatening to throw that state back to the days of caste-centric political upheavals of the mid-1980s. Mass demonstrations by Gujarati youths for increasing joblessness following shutdowns of textile and diamond units, and small and medium enterprises and for the prohibitive costs of education and healthcare, have raised serious doubts on the state’s growth model. Sixteen months into prime-ministership, Modi has been unable to unleash the kind of development that would eventually generate millions of jobs. Deep structural flaws still remain to be unclogged from the wheels of development. Instances of unfulfilled promises can be blown out of proportion to agitate the minds of those who had taken the word of Modi’s magic to heart.
Regional forces have hit the streets asserting that Assam has been the only state, among the four states involved in the Land Boundary Agreement, to have lost land. Now the state is witnessing regular outbursts of fiery rage against the Central notification granting refugee status to minority communities from Bangladesh and Pakistan. GK Pillai’s opinion that the notification is against the spirit of the Assam Accord has come in handy for whipping up long dormant sub-nationalist passions by projecting the BJP as a party that first ceded the state’s land to Bangladesh and went on to settle ‘lacs’ of migrants in Assam. The notification without a nation-wide re-settlement policy gave grist to the rumour mills insinuating that the BJP is working against the interests of the ‘indigenous’ Assamese.
BJPs political foes have never missed a chance to lambast Modi, who in the course of election rallies, had declared that Bangladeshis will have to quit India after the 16th of May 2014, but as of date, India is yet to press Dhaka to sign a deportation treaty. Without a deportation treaty, NRC update is an exercise in futility.
Congress has already fired salvoes at BJP over escalating prices of essential commodities and non-implementation of the Food Security Act and such attacks will only sharpen as the polls get closer. Another issue which the CM has harped on is the cut in social sector spending. He has said that the Centre has slashed funds for RKVY, NHM, ICDS and RMSA in Assam. Apart from the privatization of the marginal oil and gasfields of ONGC and OIL in the state, the CM has bemoaned that Assam has not received oil royalty at pre-discounted rates like Gujarat due to which the state has suffered Rs 10000 crores in oil royalty. Emotional issues of food, oil and social security are a deadly concoction which, with clever wordplay, can become potent enough to bog down a steamrolling BJP campaign.
The hue and cry over the Centre not offering a special aid package for the flood devastated people may have had its desired effect. Political opponents have questioned that if Modi could unveil a Clean Ganga Mission, then why a Brahmaputra flood control mission could not be announced. Congress has hit out at the Centre for not releasing even a fraction of the Rs 6700 crores for maintenance, repair and strengthening of embankments. Then, there are rumblings against the Centre for not being pro-active enough in resolving inter-state border spats and land encroachments by miscreants which have claimed several Assamese lives. Centre’s perceived apathy towards the loss of lives in floods and territorial disputes can infuriate the inhabitants of flood-prone and border areas. Such perceptions, if not dealt with by the BJP effectively, will alienate the aggrieved voters.
BJPs rivals may stoke other contentious issues when electioneering gains momentum, like Assam being deprived of a fair share of smart cities, that the ‘promised’ Rs 15 lacs to every Indian is still awaited and ‘good days’ have not dawned either. The BJP state unit is yet to raise awareness on how the flagship ‘Make in India’ program will benefit the state. It must pointedly counter the growing apprehension that the Gandhi Parivar has only been replaced by the Sangh Parivar. But then, Modi’s gritty espousal of development and aspirational politics, charisma and communication skills could carry the day for the state BJP despite the odds stacked against it, given that the PM enjoys wide popularity according to the latest Pew rating.
Dr. Jyoti Prasad Das is a strategic affairs analyst from Guwahati, Assam, India.