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Be it politics or sport, peaking at the right time is imperative for success. The incumbent BJP in Assam has done just that in a crucial year, leading up to the state elections in April-May 2021.
From just one seat in Bodoland Territorial Council during the last term to nine out of the 26 it had contested this year, the ruling party secured a more-than satisfactory report card, ticking all the right boxes.
But the biggest gain was that the saffron party could execute its plan of unseating the Hagrama Mohilary-led Bodoland People’s Party (BPF), its ally in the state, after 17 years through an alliance with the regional United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL), which won 12 seats, and the Gana Suraksha Party (GSP), which bagged one.
BPF won 17 seats but fell short of the majority mark of 21 (out of the 40 seats) to stake claim to head the council for a fourth consecutive time.
The BPF chief Mohilary remained confident of being chosen by the BJP after emerging as the single largest party, but, the national party tied up with UPPL, a decision communicated by the central leadership.
The icing on the cake for BJP was that it could literally “decimate” the Opposition alliance of Congress-All India United Democratic Front to zilch.
The lone Congress elected member switched over to BJP a couple of days after they announced the poll results, taking the saffron party’s tally to 10.
BJP’s masterstroke goes back a few months to January this year when the historic Bodo peace accord was signed between the government and the Bodo groups–a development that raises hopes of a final and comprehensive solution to the longstanding Bodo issue.
The significant event, importantly for the saffron party, was just the platform it needed to launch a “solo” election campaign that was a little muted earlier, owing to the pandemic and the postponement of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), but gained momentum once it was almost certain that the polls would be held in the first half of December 2020.
Thereafter, key BPF leaders such as Biswajit Daimary and Emannuel Mushahary also joined BJP ahead of the two-phase elections, to further embolden the saffron party’s cause.
Also, with Bodoland having a sizeable population of non-Bodo communities, the saffron party chose to divide the non-tribal votes, which used to land up in BPF’s kitty earlier.
Combined with the fact that the UPPL (led by former All Bodo Students’ Union chief, Pramod Boro, and now backed by the influential students’ body) was also poised for a fair share of Bodo votes, the path to reaching an advantage was laid out for the saffron party to traverse. And the results only show how they executed the master plan to perfection.
The strategy, executed locally by Assam minister and BJP’s key strategist in the Northeast, Himanta Biswa Sarma, has brought rich dividends which are also apparent in the outcome of elections in another autonomous council – Tiwa Autonomous Council, having a presence in four districts of the state.
BJP bagged 33 out of the 36 seats with two won by its ally in the state, Asom Gana Parishad.
Till the other day, the presence of a national party, let alone being the kingmaker, in an autonomous council under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, was unprecedented and even unthinkable.
But the assertive campaign led by Sarma in the Bodo belt, raking up pertinent issues of underdeveloped infrastructure, alleged corruption and uncontrolled militancy, had a telling effect on both Bodo and non-Bodo electorate across the four districts of Bodoland Territorial Region.
The public reach-out campaign was clear during the election rallies with BJP promising equal rights to all communities, also mincing little words to point out that the purchase and sale of land by non-Bodo and non-tribal communities under the Mohilary-led BTC was difficult.
The primary strategist also announced the state government’s decision to set up 40 new colleges and as many stadiums in the BTC’s 40 constituencies besides model colleges during the campaign.
Besides, Sarma also assured to release Rs 750 crore of the Rs 1,500 crore promised by the Centre in the new Bodo accord signed in January for the development of BTC.
“We will rehabilitate all the NDFB cadres. We have earmarked a rehabilitation package of Rs 60 crore,” he had said.
The beneficiary-centric politics is clear with the planned launch of a series of schemes, less than a year for the state elections, but what goes without saying is that the extension of the benefits of these schemes to council areas administered or led by local parties, will bear the voter psyche.
The saffron party, with its oratory during the poll rallies, could make the people of a strife-torn belt hope to see peace and development coming in the next five years.
Road to the finals
By winning the crucial semifinal, the BJP accomplished half its task leading up to next year’s Assembly elections, even as the saffron party would not sit back and wait for things to happen.
It is looking to penetrate deep into hitherto “alien or less travelled” bastions across the Brahmaputra and Barak valleys, having already announced its aim of winning over 100 seats in the Assembly elections.
The BTC poll outcome also is an indicator of the trends during the state elections in BTR, which has 12 Assembly seats out of the 126 in Assam. At least, the saffron party has covered many bases in the Bodo belt ahead of the state polls.
The UPPL-led alliance in the new BTC administration would be a force to reckon even as the 12 Assembly seats are currently held by the BPF, which will have its task cut out next year.
(Edited by Andre Kongri)