Strong strategies give BJP Assam

NEW DELHI,NISTULA HEBBAR:The Bihar polls had a signal effect on how the BJP strategised for the Assam elections. Within weeks of that ignominious defeat in the state, the BJP decided to appoint chief minister-elect and Union minister Sarbananda Sonowal as its state unit chief, a clear sign that the party had decided to go local in Assam.

BJP supporters celebrate after winning majority of the seats in Assam Assembly election in Guwahati on Thursday. Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar

Mr Sonowal’s homespun appeal, his presidentship of the All Assam Student’s Union (AASU) and his successful prosecution of a case seeking the scrapping of the Illegal Migration (Determination Tribunal) Act, 1983, would, it was hoped, give a local face and focus to the BJP’s campaign.

The team strategising for these polls–BJP general secretary Ram Madhav, Former Congress leader turned rebel Himanta Biswa Sarma, strategist Rajat Sethi and national secretary in charge for Assam Mahendra Singh then embarked on a three pronged strategy.

The first was to effect alliances with several smaller parties and ethnic groups like the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), the Bodo People’s Front (BPF) and the Rabhas and the Tiwa community. This helped the BJP get over its traditional handicap in minority dominated areas, as smaller ethnic groups helped counter act that vote.

Secondly, to harness the central government in Delhi to not only make commitments on fencing the Indo-Bangladesh border, but also work out relief packages for tea garden workers, a stronghold of the Congress in the past. “A series of workshops was held with people in different cities under the Assam Nirman series with Union ministers from Delhi addressing specific issues”, said Rajat Sethi, who helped organise these workshops. This ameliorated some of the high pitch of a campaign that was largely fought on the issue of identity.

Framing all of this, said the party’s campaign committee in charge, Himanta Biswa Sarma, was a strong evocation of Assamese identity. “This was a make or break election for the Assamese people who are facing demographic challenges,” he said.

A careful architecture of strategy was built up, to deliver the state, a first for the BJP.