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BJP juggernaut in Assam continues with Bodoland council polls, Congress, AIUDF bite the dust

With 9 out 40 seats in the Bodoland Territorial Council polls, the BJP has emerged kingmaker, opting to tie up with UPPL and GSP instead of ally BPF, the single largest party.

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Guwahati: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has won the semi-finals of the much-hyped 2021 Assam assembly elections, bagging nine out 40 seats in the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) polls and announcing a post-poll alliance with the regional United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL) and the Gana Suraksha Party (GSP).

The results for the two-phased polls on 7 and 10 December were announced in the early hours of Sunday, and a fractured mandate led to speculations and meetings hours later. While UPPL won 12 seats, the GSP secured one.

BJP’s alliance partner in the state, the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) won 17 seats, four short of the majority mark of 21. Both BJP and BPF had decided to go solo in the polls. The BJP fielded 26 candidates against the BPF’s 37.

Even as BPF remained confident of being chosen by the BJP after emerging as the single largest party, the kingmaker national party went with UPPL, a decision communicated by the central leadership.

“Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP president J.P. Nadda have welcomed UPPL to form the council along with GSP. And UPPL has also shown interest in joining NDA and North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA). We will give it a thought as well,” said Assam Minister and BJP’s key strategist in Northeast, Himanta Biswa Sarma, who led campaigns in Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR) amid the pandemic.

Sarma made the comments while addressing reporters outside the chief minister’s residence in Guwahati.

The main opposition alliance of Congress and AIUDF failed in the first test ahead of the assembly elections, with a near whitewash. The alliance partners fielded 20 candidates each but only Congress could win one seat.

The UPPL gained strength this year with the induction of former All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU) president Pramod Bodo soon after the signing of the third Bodo accord in January. Pramod had spearheaded the Bodoland statehood movement. The party had won seven seats in 2015 and contested all 40 seats this time.

The GSP, which is led by Lok Sabha member from Kokrajhar and former Ulfa commander Hira Sarania, contested in 35.

The BTC is an autonomous self-governing body formed in 2003 under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. It looks after the administrative affairs of the four districts under BTR — Baksa, Udalguri, Kokrajhar and Chirang, all of which have a sizeable population of the Bodo community.

Also read: A year after Assam anti-CAA stir, families of those killed lend support to renewed movement

BPF-BJP alliance for 2021?

The outcome of these local council elections has decided the fate of BPF leader and former BTC chief Hagrama Mohilary, who was earlier seen appealing to the state BJP leadership to choose his party. There are now questions on whether the BJP would partner BPF for the assembly elections next year.

Sarma, however, said the alliance would remain intact until the elections.

“At BTC, our alliance is with UPPL and GSP, and in state level, we will continue to be in alliance with BPF and Asom Gana Parishad till elections in 2021. This is what we had promised to the people when we got together for five years,” Sarma said.

Mohilary had been in power since the council’s creation. The first BTC election was held in 2005 when Mohilary formed the BPF and was elected its first president.

“Our alliance at state level was intact, and it shall remain so. If BJP thinks any other party can help them in BTC, it is their decision. In politics, there is no permanent friend or foe,” Mohilary said while addressing a press meet in Kokrajhar Sunday morning.

Mohilary was looking for a fourth term, but his party faced corruption and misgovernance charges by its own ally.

In the 2015 BTC election, BPF had won 20 council seats, while BJP won one. The AIUDF had bagged four while 15 independents won.

According to political analyst Shyamkanu Mahanta, Mohilary has made a strong statement with this result and the top BJP leadership will try to “keep him along”.

“With strong anti incumbency for 17 years, BJP going all guns blazing against him and playing strategic election tie-up with UPPL, (it) was very tough for BPF. But they survived the onslaught and became the single largest party. So their importance in Assam politics will remain,” said Mahanta.

Also read: A year on and two extensions later, Modi govt is ‘yet to frame CAA rules’

Congress-AIUDF alliance fails ahead of assembly polls

Against hopes of the opposition parties finding acceptance among non-Bodos, Congress could win only one seat while the AIUDF went down from four seats in 2015 to zero this time.

“BJP winning so many seats on its own means it has gained significant ground among the non-Bodo voters, mainly comprising settlers from outside Bodo homeland, albeit long settlers and Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh. This is a consolidation of Hindu ideology in a culturally heterogeneous area of the state and a new trend,” said former Assam director general of police Harekrishna Deka.

Congress Mariani MLA Rupjyoti Kurmi told ThePrint that his party has proved to be a “big loser” in the BTC polls and the state leadership should learn a lesson from this defeat.

“Because of our tie-up with AIUDF, they could not win a single seat and left us in a bad position too. This factor was well utilised by BJP — polarisation of non-Bodo votes and diversion of Muslim votes was their strategy. The Congress state leadership should take a lesson from BTC polls,” said Kurmi.

“We are a big loser, but BJP is no less a loser. They fielded 26 candidates in the 40-member council. They are in power in both Centre and the state. They should have got at least 15 seats. They couldn’t even get 10 seats despite organising big rallies with money power and influence. Helicopter rides, songs and dance, big offices, money, feasting and extravagance — no big result though,” he added.

The legislator said the Congress-AIUDF alliance would be rejected in Upper Assam.

“In Assam, we have 126 constituencies, of which minority voters have greater presence in 36. The rest 90 seats have no minorities — they have Hindus and other ethnic communities. To win in these seats, we will have to contest alone,” he added.

Also read: Burnt homes, illnesses, damage to ecology — what Baghjan is left with months after OIL fire


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