Post-poll survey: BJP’s polarisation strategy hits the mark in Assam

NDA managed to mobilise all social groups, except Muslims, in its favour

The election in Assam revolved around three crucial political factors: the consolidation of the BJP as the dominant party in the State; the inability of the Opposition to produce a counter-narrative; and the social polarisation on religious lines.

Post-poll survey: BJP’s polarisation strategy hits the mark in Assam

 

The political dominance that the BJP forged first in 2014 and then in 2016 in Assam has been a vital factor in giving the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) a definitive edge over other parties in this election. The party retained its alliance with the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) to attain a regional character and used its newly attained regional clout to check the consolidation of anti-BJP votes.

With a 36% vote share, the BJP was able to win nine of the 14 seats in the State, a gain of two from the 2014 tally. In the 10 seats it contested, the party’s vote share was much higher — 54%. The AGP with just 32% failed to win a single seat. The BPF could not win the lone seat it contested.

Table 1: Seats Won and Votes secured by Parties

 

The Congress managed to secure around 35% votes (almost a 6% increase from the 2014 share) and three seats, retaining its 2014 tally. Two of the three seats came from Upper Assam, where it secured 42% votes. It, however, performed poorly in the Barak Valley, winning no seat and getting just 25% votes.

Table 2: Region wise vote and seat distribution

 

Even as the BJP’s campaign strategy remained focussed on three major issues — the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, development activities by the Union government and the performance of the BJP-led government in the State since 2016 — the reason for the party’s success seems to have been the polarisation it achieved.

The survey indicates that the NDA managed to mobilise all social groups in its favour, except Muslims who voted overwhelmingly for the Congress. Three-fourths of upper castes, three-fifths of the OBCs, two-thirds of Dalits and over four-fifths of Adivasis ended up voting for the BJP. But 70% of the Muslims, who constitute about a third of Assam’s population, consolidated behind the Congress. Not only did the Congress attract an overwhelming proportion of Muslim votes in Kaliabor and Nowgong as the All India United Democratic Front did not field any candidates in these constituencies, the party also won in Barpeta, where the regional party was very much present. The AIUDF, which contested in only three Muslim-dominated constituencies to avoid a division of Muslim votes elsewhere, managed to win just the Dhubri seat.

Table 3: How social groups voted in Assam

 

Though the Congress fielded its candidates in all constituencies including those where the AIUDF contested, the BJP lost no opportunity in accusing the two of having a tacit alliance. This put off traditional Hindu supporters of the Congress, adversely affecting the party in many constituencies. The Congress strength had traditionally been the support of Muslims and migrant tea workers. While Muslim support saw an unprecedented consolidation this time, its tea-worker base was heavily eroded. This marks a high point in religious consolidation both ways.

Table 4: Preference for Prime Minister – Hindus for Modi, Muslims for Rahul

 

The controversy over the Citizenship Amendment Bill does not seem to have affected the BJP much among Assamese Hindus, the community that was at the forefront of the protests. The survey found that the BJP alliance managed to secure 59% of the Assamese Hindu vote. This is despite the fact that the survey found that 75% of Assamese Hindus were opposed to the Bill. The BJP alliance got more votes than the Congress even among those Assamese Hindus fully opposed to the Bill.

Table 5: Satisfaction with the governments – Hindus were twice more likely to be satisfied than Muslims

 

Thus, opposition to the Bill, taken up by anti-BJP forces as the main issue, failed to have much of an impact on Assamese Hindus except in pockets. It did help consolidate Bengali Hindu votes towards the BJP across the State, contributing especially to the defeat of the sitting Congress MP in Silchar, where they constitute a majority. The party registered an unprecedented success in the Barak Valley owing to the significant shift of the Bengali-speaking Hindu community to the party. The survey found most Bengali-speaking Hindus to be in favour of the Bill.

Most Assamese Hindus were opposed to the Bill and yet a majority of them voted for the BJP alliance.

Table 6: Most Assamese Hindus were opposed to the Citizenship Amendment Bill and yet a majority of them voted for the BJP alliance

 

In a socially diverse State that had undergone decades of ethnic conflict and insurgency, religious polarisation cutting across ethnic cleavages presents an interesting case. The party’s success lay in its ability to neutralise the opposition to the Bill and divert the attention of Hindus towards the increase in Muslim population, presumably due to influx from Bangladesh with Congress patronage.

(Dhruba Pratim Sharma and Vikas Tripathi work in the Department of Political Science of Gauhati University and Hilal Ahmed is an Associate Professor at the CSDS)

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