Immediately after the 2009 general elections many of the Urdu newspapers of India carried out their routine post-election exercise of publishing the lists of Muslim MPs elected to the 15th Lok Sabha. Most of these lists varied between 28 to 30 names listing out luminaries like Assaduddin Owaisi and Badruddin Ajmal among others. Curiously every Urdu publication had missed one name from the list, that of Jahanara Chaudhary, the three time Lakhimpur MP who was only defeated in the 2014 LS polls by the current Chief Ministerial candidate of BJP, Sarbananda Sonowal, by a whopping landslide of nearly 3 lakh votes. Sonowal’s emphatic victory in Lakhimpur served as the symbol of this new Assam which was ready to battle its past ghosts with total conviction.
In 1985, after 6 long years of massive student’s agitations led by AASU (All Assam Students Union), India’s first truly young students’ government had come to power in Assam with a “Right wing” ideology at its core which was so politically ‘unfashionable’ in that era of communist revolutions. Yet, within 3 months of the Prafulla Kumar Mahanta government coming to power, many AASU activists were feeling betrayed and had once again taken to streets. Among others, one of the primary reasons why the AASU activists were agitating was the rank betrayal of one of its own leaders, the forest minister in the first AGP government, Bharat Narah. The then 26-year-old Bharat Narah had betrayed the very founding principle of the Assam movement when he had married a Muslim woman with the blessings of Hiteshwar Saikia, the much hated former Congress CM.
Jahanara Chaudhary who grew up in a Muslim colony of Guwahati’s Gandhi Basti, renamed herself as Ranee Narah after marrying the AGP minister in 1986. This was a marriage that came to symbolize everything that was wrong about Assam where illegal Bangladeshi migrants and Muslims were demographically displacing original Assamese populace through systematic infiltration. This ‘honey-trapped’ marriage was Hiteshwar Saikia’s coup against the first right-wing government of the state (Saikia did achieve his target because the Narah couple eventually joined the Congress party and have been loyal soldiers of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty for over 25 years). Today when even Urdu newspapers forget to name Ranee Narah as a Muslim MP from Assam, it simply shows how deeply the Assamese society has been demographically altered.
One has to really underscore the scale and the depth of the demographic problem in order to make sense of the Assamese civilizational hurt. For instance, in the US, there is a raging political debate over illegal immigrants so much so that the upcoming presidential election may well be decided by this clincher issue. The total number of illegal migrants in the US is said to be numbered at around 11 million which is roughly 3% of the population. In Assam, even by conservative estimates, more than a third of its demographics is made of illegal migrants!
How can a state survive with such large numbers of infiltrators? In fact, this election today is the election of survival for Assam. As we had reported in our pre-poll survey, the “illegal migrants” issue has become a wave in the state, possibly a far bigger wave than even 1985. When we asked what was the issue on which they have voted on these two days of polling, there was a quantum jump of 13 percentage points in those who have actually exercised their franchise based on the migrant issue. Indeed, many of the local issues have been overwhelmed in this tsunami of the “illegal migrant” current.
The way Assamese voters have indicated their reason for the vote is the first indication of a wave election in the state. Actually we could discern the way this wave traveled over the last week through a clear data trail – the number of post-poll/exit-poll respondents increased by another 3 percentage points as elections moved from April 4th to April 11th which further showed us how with each passing day the wave gained in strength. Everywhere our team travelled we heard only one war cry from young Assamese voters, “Save Axomiya Jati”. Interestingly, even quite a few of the young ethnic Assamese Muslim voters subscribed to this war cry and were found voting for the BJP, although the statistical significance of the same has to be understated here, but it is just another indication of a strong political wave which sometimes even takes opposition vote along the way through the sheer strength of perception.
The ruling Congress party headed by Tarun Gogoi began to realize the depth of the anger after the first round of polling on April 4th (in mostly eastern Assam) and a massive scale of state sponsored polarization was unleashed. Congress workers started spreading the rumours of how Gujarat 2002 massacre would be repeated in the state if the Muslims do not vote for Gogoi. In fact, many Bangla speaking clerics even tried to preach that a vote for AIUDF would be an indirect vote for BJP. By now Congress had realized that almost all segments of non-Muslim Assamese voters were deserting it and the only way to make a comeback was to try and garner complete Muslim votes. Badruddin Ajmal too had sensed the Congress game plan and was seen working overtime to protect his turf.
On the other hand, BJP’s problem in this highly polarized state were its inherent weaknesses in the western parts of the state which went to polls today. BJP as a party has for long been a bit player in Assam and lacks cadre of its own in most parts of the state which was being supplemented by nearly 20000 workers of RSS and other affiliated organizations like Lok Jagran Manch which had a big base in districts like Dibrugarh and Golaghat that went to polls in phase 1. Thus in the second phase, where RSS doesn’t have much direct presence, BJP was mostly dependent on Ekal Vidyalaya teachers (who have very good influence among local populace) and on the polling booth level infrastructure of erstwhile AGP which has really been the big game changer today. In fact, even the alliance with the much depleted AGP which was originally frowned upon by many BJP local leaders has today proved to be a boon in a highly polarized atmosphere. The recent shift of many Congress leaders to BJP, especially the master strategist, Himanta Biswa sarma, also helped the party in nullifying the Congress game plan in many of these seats.
We do indeed believe that after the 2014 elections this is the first time that BJP has shown real creativity in tackling an adversary, for BJP was in danger of becoming a 1-point-strategy party of holding large Modi rallies and simply hoping for magic in polling booths after that. The result is telling. For the first time after 2014, BJP has achieved another Hindu vote spectrum in Assam, albeit this time not by building caste coalitions but by building ethnic and tribal partnerships. In many ways this is a giant demographic shift and could prove to be yet another historic turning point in the journey of neo-Hindu vote trajectory that is in the process of creating the first Hindu empire after nearly a millennium since Prithviraj Chauhan’s defeat in the second battle of Tarain.
The Assamese demographic map is essentially divided into 6 segments after analyzing voter rolls and census data. What we have seen in two days of polling is a new united Hindu rainbow of votes who have voted for the BJP-led alliance. Not only is BJP getting big support among Bengali and Assamese caste Hindus but also among Dalits and even Ahoms (who have always stood behind Gogoi). This marvelous spectrum of Hindu vote combined with the split Muslim vote is another pointer towards a huge wave election unleashing itself in Assam.
One recent election that resembles the Assam wave of today has to be Rajasthan in 2013 where again BJP was always way ahead of its rival Congress but media unnecessarily created a narrative of a ruling party comeback in the run-up to the polls. Just like the wrongful Rajasthan narrative where Ashok Gehlot was constantly projected as a “very popular” sitting CM by the media, even here in Assam our survey has found that Sarbananda Sonowal is consistently enjoying a lead of over 10% over Gogoi which increases by a whopping 25% when sampled only for young voters.
There are nearly 70 lakh voters in Assam today below the age of 30 who would be the crucial demographic segment that could decide the fate of the state’s future and it is among these young voters both in urban as well as rural areas that the “Axomiya” wave is sweltering at its maximum. Even AASU which has officially not supported the BJP led coalition is working overtime to help Sarba Da (as Sonowal is popularly known among student leaders) become the CM of Assam. “It is his charisma that will drown Gogoi in Assam” avers an AASU activist before adding, “this is our do-or-die battle now (against immigrants)!” Indeed, this is the sentiment one gets everywhere one travels and the fact that BJP chose not to follow its policy of ambiguity over the CM candidate, at least here in Assam, is something that is paying huge dividends to the saffron coalition. BJP and RSS seem to have read the mood of the Assamese electorate brilliantly as everywhere it is not a battle between Sarba Da and Gogoi (which could have been counterproductive) but instead it is a battle between Sarba Da and the miya (as Bangla Muslims are popularly refered to). Such a brilliant transmission of a message of the battle line drawn between a firebrand former student’s leader and the miya has created a huge sensation among the voters which could not have been possible without RSS participation.
The fact though is that this undercurrent of a battle between Sarba da and the Miya is also augmented by the lack of development in the last 2-3 years of Gogoi’s chief ministerial innings. As we had seen throughout the summer of 2014, the way Modi managed to build his United Spectrum of Hindu Votes on a platform of development agenda, here too in Assam, BJP has managed to replicate that template. The united Hindu vote can only be sustained on a paradigm of economic agenda because Hindus unlike Abrahamic religions are far more practical in both philosophy and practice. Whenever BJP has veered away from this binary of core Hindu philosophy built on good economics, it has suffered reverses of the Bihar kind.
The biggest complaint against the Gogoi government by young Assamese is that of unemployment. It is these jobless and job-seeking Assamese youth who are at the forefront of the battle lines between Sarba da and the miya. As our post-poll numbers show, Sarba da is winning this contest hands on not only because of a united Assamese vote supporting him, but also because AIUDF is getting enough traction in important swing polling booths of minority dominated districts of Dhubri, Barpeta and Nagaon – in fact, RSSI (Randomized Social Swing Impact) has shown us that AIUDF may be getting enough votes to hurt the already wounded Congress in these districts.
The only caution here could be that many Bangla Muslims could have deliberately chosen to give a wrong response mostly in fear of local factors. The NRC issue and the rumours of the ‘1951 cut-off date’ could have forced a greater number of Bangla Muslim voters to vote in a singular direction towards Congress, but then on the other hand, usually small regional parties like AIUDF tend to be under-represented in sample-surveys which acts as the counterbalancing mathematical weightage. Statistically adjusting for all these vagaries, we have projected the vote-shares of different political formations after the two-round polling in the state.
As is always the case in Indian elections, there exists no mathematical formula or statistical system to convert these vote-shares into seats, so the seat-share projection model is more based on a trial-and-error methodology of giving different weightage to various localized findings and adjusting the same to historic voter behavior and ethnic voter data. In a wave or wave like election most of these seat conversions could go wrong due to built-in over caution whereas conversely in small differentiated sub-geographies, even political parties facing the brunt of the wave may win far greater number of seats than anticipated – as could well be the case in Assam for either Congress or AIUDF in minority dominated districts.
Yet, based on all our post-poll data we can safely reach the following conclusions;