The spotlight in 2021 seems to be on the West Bengal Assembly election but it is the Assam polls that will tell the big political story of recent years — another convincing win by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would show how it has learnt to capture territories that are not organic to it, not just electorally, but also politically and culturally. While the West Bengal result can be a defining political event — either way — it is Assam that remains a far more fascinating and crucial electoral experiment.
In the 2016 Assembly election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP did exceedingly well in Assam, winning 60 of the 126 seats on its own, and 86 in partnership with its allies Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodoland People’s Front (BPF). This was a fresh breach for the BJP, storming into an uncharted territory. If 2016 was an electoral capture, the years since then have seen the BJP tightening its grip on the state politically and at the socio-cultural level.
Politically, the BJP has ensured all other players, especially the Congress and even ally AGP, are edged out. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the party won nine of the 14 seats, reducing the Congress, which had been the predominant party in the state, to just three seats. Culturally and sociologically, it has ensured the long standing ‘ethnic, non-ethnic’ faultline — which the BJP isn’t equipped to cash in on — is blurred into a fuzzy mix of Hindu-Muslim and ‘Indian-non Indian’ binaries.
If the BJP wins Assam again, it will mean Narendra Modi and Amit Shah’s gamble of pushing through with the Citizenship (Amendment) Act didn’t hurt them in the one state where it should have otherwise spelt doom for them. This would also mean the Modi-Shah duo have mastered the art of not just acquiring new territories, but ruling them in all aspects, putting their own stamp and gaining absolute power. What is even more pertinent is that in Assam the BJP is doing well not because of its Hindu-Muslim politics, but despite it.
But if the BJP loses in the state, it would expose the glaring limitations of the party’s politics and its constant gambles. Assam, therefore, is a microcosm for determining the success of Modi-Shah’s political model.